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Constructing a public value message in real time

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, a couple of weeks ago I taught a one-hour "mini" public value workshop as part of the University of Minnesota Extension fall program conference. With such a short amount of time, we really had to pare down the presentation, and there wasn't enough time for participants to complete exercises. construction.JPGMy co-organizer, Aimee Viniard-Weideman, wanted us to at least give the participants a sense of how the construct a public value message. Aimee suggested that we invite a colleague, who had already completed the BEPV workshop, to demonstrate how her program's message came about.

We included a blank version of the public value message graphic, like the one below, except with empty boxes. Prior to the session, we asked Sue Letourneau, program leader for health and nutrition programs, to share a public value message for Extension's Simply Good Eating program. I created a slide that included Sue's text within the message graphic and added animation that brought the text in one box at a time. At the session, I asked Sue to present her message, explaining how her team arrived at the language they chose.

Given the short amount of time, we hope this approach helped participants see how a program team can go about constructing a public value message, even if they didn't get a chance to do so themselves. It also gave an example of a UM Extension program that had completed the workshop, hopefully dispelling concerns that it would be too demanding. Finally, Sue helped participants see how the public value message was related to the research agenda that the Simply Good Eating program team is currently implementing.

blank worksheet.bmp


Hi Laura. My name is Joanna Tzenis and I am a community program specialist at the UMN Extension Center for Youth Development. To preface my question, I will say that my academic background is in sociology and anthropology and that talking about economic principles is not my forte. That said, my question is: when identifying public value in Extension programs and creating a mission statement, how important is it to measure public value in terms of direct cost? (E.g. Food cost goes down for community members.) In the field of youth development, I think if you look at our programs through a sociological lens, we see public value taking the form of social trust and social organization, improved public safety and improved democratic processes. These are things that benefit society, but are not always immediate outcomes and cannot always be described in terms of dollar signs. How can we take about our public value in these terms without having our public value message seem too theoretical?

Hi, Joanna. Many stakeholders are concerned about the financial benefits from our programs, so it is important for us to monetize our programs' public value where that is possible. For example, if a YD program is shown to reduce the need for remedial education in the schools, and we have a good model for credibly estimating the effect of that on the school system's budget, we should report those impacts. However, as you state, many of our programs generate benefits that are difficult to even quantify, much less monetize, at least given our current capabilities. In those cases, we should (1) invest resources in advancing program evaluation so those benefits CAN be quantified--such as pursuing research on measuring improvements in social capital and social trust; and (2) develop strong QUALITATIVE arguments for the programs' public value. I fear that if we insist in monetizing the public value of every program we will end up with a lot of bad, non-credible estimates, and programs whose value is easily monetized will rise to the top of the priority list.