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February 3, 2014

How do your programs create public value?

In the Building Extension's Public Value workshop, we highlight three main ways Extension programs create public value. Programs address concerns about fairness, close an information gap, or encourage actions that benefit the greater community (or equivalently, discourage actions that impose costs on the community). Each of these can be thought of as a criterion or justification for public sector involvement. In my experience, most Extension programs focus on the third type of value creation and base their public value message on the ways a program encourages beneficial activities.
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During a recent a webinar for University of Minnesota Extension, we conducted an onscreen poll asking which of the three criteria participants thought applied to their programs. Respondents could choose any criterion that applied, including choosing all three. Out of about 32 participants, five thought their programs addressed a concern about fairness, and both the information gap and public benefits criteria received 20 votes.

We can't generalize from this non-scientific poll, but I wondered about the lack of attention to the fairness criterion. In the workshop, I encourage program teams to use this criterion with caution. Whether the unfairness of a situation warrants public sector action is subjective, and stakeholders with different values may assess fairness differently. So, I think Extension makes a more effective case when it uses the fairness criterion selectively. For this reason, I wasn't surprised by the small number of responses for fairness. I wondered, though, whether it arose because respondents thought their programs did not address a concern about fairness, or if they thought the program did address fairness, but they planned to emphasize a different criterion in order to make a stronger case.

Do you think a relatively small share of Extension programs address a fairness concern? Which criterion would you have chosen for the Extension programs you work with?

October 23, 2013

Does public value magnitude matter?

Is it enough for a stakeholder to learn that your program produced public value, or do stakeholders want to know how much value was created? Put another way, is it adequate to demonstrate that a program has a positive return on investment for a community? Or does it have to have a higher return than all the alternative investments the community could have made?
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I was asked this question today at a Center for Integrative Leadership Research Forum where I presented, "How Cross Sector Leadership Builds Extension's Public Value." It seems that the answer has to be yes, it does matter whether a program generates a large or small amount of public benefit relative to its cost.

A potential funder wants to direct dollars toward their highest use. Ideally, all programs would report a return using a common metric. The metric could be dollars for programs whose impacts can be monetized (i.e., converted to dollars); it could be some other common metric (e.g., amount of pollution remediation, high school graduation rate) for programs addressing similar issues. With common metrics, a funder could rank programs by return on investment and fund as many of the top programs as they can.

Such apples-to-apples comparisons must be rare, though, even for programs with common objectives. I also imagine that the magnitude of a programs' expected public value--if it is known--will inform, but not drive a funder's decision.

What has your experience been? Have you sought funding from a source that demands to know the expected return on their investment in terms of dollars or some other metric? Do you know of funders that use those metrics to rank programs by return?


May 7, 2013

Can public value help you get promoted?

promotion.jpgLast year I presented to faculty from University of Minnesota's Research and Outreach Centers (ROCs) about communicating the public value of research, outreach and engagement scholarship for promotion and tenure purposes. Since then I've had others ask me about whether and how the public value approach can be useful in documenting scholarly accomplishments.

The guidance I came up with is pretty similar to what I wrote about here: begin with the end in mind. Basically, a scholar who aims early on for public value-level impacts and outcomes, and then evaluates and documents those outcomes, will have built a strong case for her work's public value. Because each step in creating public value involves scholarship--of research, engagement, teaching, and evaluation--the scholar who meticulously documents her contributions should, in the end, be well-positioned to defend her record.

I know, with all of the demands on outreach and engagement faculty, this is easier said than done. I know clients and community-members expect these faculty to engage in activities that are hard to classify as scholarship. But I do think that leading with the end game can help a faculty member prioritize for success.

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I also wrote in this blog entry about ways that the public value approach can help close the loop between research and engagement. The research-design-engagement-evaluation loop illustrated in that entry provides a number of opportunities for a scholar focusing on engagement work--in contrast with outreach education--to document her contributions and impact. How did you contribute to (1) the research that underpins the program curriculum, (2) the program design, (3) the engagement itself, (4) the program evaluation? It seems to me that viewing your engagement program in the context of the loop can bring to mind scholarly contributions that you might not have thought to document. Perhaps it can even lead to a more complete promotion and tenure case.

June 7, 2012

Creating Public Value with Fiscal Policy

Have you studied the scholarship on defining, measuring, and creating public value outside of Cooperative Extension? Wonder how disciplines other than economics define and discuss public value? (Spoiler alert: They don't all see eye to eye with economists!) Then you may be interested in an upcoming conference sponsored by the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. The conference, titled Creating Public Value in a Multi-Sector, Shared Power World will be held in Minneapolis September 20-22, 2012.

I wrote one of the foundation papers for the conference on the topic of "Creating Public Value with Tax and Spending Policies." While not specifically about Extension programs, the definition of public value I use in the paper is the same as that used in the "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop. We were asked to summarize our papers in five key points, which is a great idea when conference-goers have a lot of papers to digest. Here are the key points from my paper:

1. According to the framework rooted in public sector economics, market failures (such as externalities, information gaps, and public goods) call for cooperative action to make society better off. Which sector should take the action--government, nonprofit, informal--depends on the type of organization that can most cost-effectively address the market failure. Whichever kind of organization acts, effectively addressing market failure can create public value.

2. Governments can create public value by focusing tax and spending policies on (1) achieving economic efficiency by addressing market failure and (2) addressing concerns about fairness embodied in the social welfare function.

3. An optimal tax and transfer policy raises the revenue necessary to fund desired government activities in a way that maximizes social welfare, thus achieving society's redistributive goals, subject to technological and natural resource constraints.

4. The process through which policies are adopted does not resemble the planner's problem in social choice theory. Political structures and government's own failures combine to ensure that real fiscal policies are not the same as the recommendations that arise from the optimal tax literature.

5. Many tools are in place to help the federal and state governments focus tax and spending in ways that can maximize public value, and others are available if we can muster the will to support them.

My favorite lesson from the paper--maybe my favorite lesson from public sector economics in general--is that public value is not exclusively about efficiency, it is also about fairness. Making outcomes more efficient is only the first step. Optimal fiscal policy also addresses society's concerns about the distribution of well-being among members, also known as fairness.

One more preview for the conference: UM Extension Leadership and Civic Engagement Educator Lisa Hinz and I are working on another paper for the conference on "Using Economic Principles to Show How Extension Education Programs Create Public Value." I'll share the abstract of that paper when it is ready, so stay tuned!

May 15, 2012

Discussing public value from youth programs

There has been a lively discussion about communicating the public value of youth development programs on "Youth Development Insight," a blog of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development. Community program specialist, Joanna Tzenis argues that youth programs can create public value by having society-level impacts. Examples of two such impacts are building trust among community members and youth becoming agents for change in their communities. You can check out the discussion here.

October 24, 2011

The late-workshop slump

I got some constructive feedback on a recent four-hour "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop that I taught here at the University of Minnesota for NELD. While the evaluations were largely positive, I also heard that some participants grew weary toward the end of the workshop and even "checked out" during the later small group exercises. One participant wrote on the evaluation form, "Content was very good, but a very long time sitting with no activity."
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This lead me to search for activities I might include in the second half of the workshop--which often occurs in the sleepy after-lunch hours--that would get people up out of their seats and moving around. I admit that I am torn, because even without adding new activities, it is hard to achieve all of an organization's workshop goals in the allocated time. So, I do not want to add anything to the workshop that doesn't advance the BEPV learning objectives.

My search brought me to the University of Minnesota's Techniques in Learning and Teaching (TILT) blog. The October 17, 2011, entry is about reinvigorating student learning during the "mid-term slump." My issue is more with a "late-workshop slump," but I'm willing to try some of the suggested techniques. For example, I think I can adapt the flipchart-page-synthesizing technique to the BEPV workshop. It is described here:

"Version 2: Create four flip chart pages, each with its own unique synthesizing question and post each page at different locations around the room. Group students in 3s or 4s and have them discuss the question on one chart, come to a consensus, and then record their thoughts. At a designated time all groups rotate to a new flip chart, review and respond to previous groups and raise new questions. By focusing the four questions on a specific, common-to-all case or scenario, students must draw on all they have studied to analyze and address the discrete components of an overall problem, while also reflecting on how content and coherence of previous commenters."

I can think of two ways this technique might work:

(1) I could use the activity to help participants synthesize the main content of the BEPV workshop (modules 1-4): the criteria for public sector action. I'm not yet sure what the "unique synthesizing questions" for the flipchart pages would be...perhaps something like, "Can the criteria for public sector involvement be used to justify public funding for any Extension program?" Alternatively, each flipchart page could simply hold one of the criteria, as identified in the slide below, and groups would add to each page examples of Extension programs that satisfy the criterion.

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(2) After participants complete the "Demonstrating Extension's Public Value" activity (module 8), but before they refine their work with the public value message template (module 8.1), I could post draft public value messages on four flipchart pages. The messages would come from elsewhere, i.e., not from the workshop participants. I would sort participants into new small groups, as explained in the TILT blog excerpt, and ask each small group to critique the draft messages. Perhaps they could re-draft the messages on the flipchart pages. If there is enough time, I could rotate the small groups through the flipchart pages, asking them to improve upon the previous groups' work, if possible. The slide below, providing some guidelines for drafting messages, could serve as a resource for the activity.

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What are your reactions to these ideas? Is it worthwhile trying to invigorate the second half of the workshop with a get-up-and-move-around activity? Do you think the suggested activities would help accomplish the learning objectives, and not simply add minutes onto a tight agenda?

October 20, 2011

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.

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October 17, 2011

It's all in the timing

I've taught "Building Extension's Public Value" workshops varying in length from all day to 90-minute concurrent sessions at conference. A couple of weeks ago, I presented a "mini" workshop for University of Minnesota Extension that was only one hour long...and that was with interruptions for fire alarm testing!

That varied set of experiences, together with recent conversations with Extension staff who are gearing up to teach workshops in their own states (shout out to New York and Georgia!), made me think that we could benefit from an exchange of ideas about timing.

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I have experimented with a number of different structures for the BEPV workshop, but the most common takes about four hours, including a couple of short breaks. Of course, in that amount of time, I can't teach all of the modules in the BEPV Presenter's Guide. But, we can usually complete the content and activities for the modules shown below:agenda.JPG
Note that the last goal is "have considered next steps," and not "have completed a public value action plan." A four hour workshop may not give us enough time to complete the action plan module. Depending on the audience's objectives, I sometimes replace the full module with a large group discussion about next steps.

As I teach in the BEPV Train-the-Trainer course, I use caution when I skip workshop modules. Each of the optional modules was added to the curriculum, because I repeatedly fielded questions on that topic. So, when I skip a module and the associated exercise, I spend at least a few minutes talking about the issue that the module is intended to address. For example, if I don't cover module 9, "Maximizing Public Value," I lead a short discussion about the different types of program characteristics that are responsible for public value outcomes.

If you have taught a BEPV workshop, how much total time did you use? What were you able to cover in that amount of time? If you've participated in a workshop, how long was it? Did it seem like the right amount of time? Rushed? Did it drag on? Would you preferred a different schedule?

October 10, 2011

The unreachable stakeholder?

Last week I presented a mini public value workshop as part of University of Minnesota Extension's Fall Program Conference. When I suggested that public value messages should address the specific concerns of individual stakeholders, a question came up that I have heard several times before. Are there some stakeholders who will never be receptive to our messages about public funding for Extension programs? No matter how hard we try, are some stakeholders simply unreachable?

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I think that particularly skeptical stakeholders pose a challenge, to which we must try to rise. After all, we wouldn't have identified them as stakeholders if their support for Extension weren't important. Conversely, if all of our stakeholders were easy for us to reach, Extension would already be enjoying long-term financial sustainability.

Here are my suggestions:

==Consult with others in the organization who may have a better idea than we do of what matters the most to the challenging stakeholders. External and legislative affairs professionals, regional Extension directors, Extension liaisons to stakeholder groups in your state come to mind.
==Find stakeholders who are sympathetic to Extension, but who are otherwise similarly situated to the challenging stakeholder. For example, do you know of a "friend of Extension" who is in the same line of work, of the same age, living in the same region? Ask that person how they came to understand the value of Extension in their community and what information helped them choose to support Extension.
==If the stakeholder is a public official, study what she has said and written--not only about Extension, but about a variety of topics--to get an idea of what really matters to her.
==Evaluate whether this stakeholder truly is crucial to your program, or if it would not be a great loss to focus your efforts elsewhere.

What do you think? What kinds of stakeholders seem to be unreachable? Have you had success with them? What has worked for you?

September 26, 2011

Opportunity this fall for University of Minnesota Extension staff

leaves.jpgBecause the Building Extension's Public Value workshop began at the University of Minnesota, you might think that UM Extension staff are all familiar with the public value approach. Surely, most of us are. But for newer Extension staffers--and not-so-new staffers who have never participated in a BEPV workshop--this year's fall program conference provides an opportunity to learn the basics. Below is the description of the BEPV mini course that Aimee Viniard-Weideman and I will present as a concurrent session on October 4. I hope to see many of you there!

Your Program's Value: Tell it like it matters:

Have you ever had a great opportunity to tell someone who matters about the value of your program ---but you just didn't have the right words at the right time? Do you need a little help making the case for how your Extension program makes a difference in Minnesota? Here's your chance to develop key messages you can share with key stakeholders about the pubic value of your program. Laura Kalambokidis has trained Extension faculty members across the country to develop messages that matter. Take advantage of this opportunity to participate in an abbreviated version of her nationally recognized program and learn new ways to influence your key stakeholders.

September 20, 2011

Leading with Public Value

On Thursday, September 22, I will teach a Building Extension's Public Value workshop as part of the National Extension Leadership Development NELD North Central meeting here at the University of Minnesota.

NELD's mission is "...to build leaders in Cooperative Extension at all levels and provide them with the vision, courage, and tools to lead in a changing world." Extension's world certainly is changing--and fast. I hope public value will be one of the tools NELD participants will find useful as they lead through that change.

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April 29, 2010

Should sponsors benefit from Extension programs?

Many Extension programs receive sponsorships from third parties: individuals, businesses, or organizations that wish to ensure that a program takes place. The program's sustainability sometimes hinges on the sponsor's financial support, and sponsors have an interest in the program's outcomes. University of Minnesota Extension's Farm Transfer and Estate Planning program is an example. According to Agricultural Business Management Extension Educator Gary Hachfeld, sponsors for the program include attorneys, accountants, and bankers who support the program so that their clients (and others) may attend.

When assembling a public value message, we consider the private benefits to the program participants and the public value that accrues to the greater community. But, is it legitimate for a program to also create benefits for the third-party sponsors? In my view, when the sponsor's financial support is crucial to the program, and the program persists in creating substantial public value, creating benefits for the sponsor is warranted.

Consider the schematic below, based on the diagram we typically use to illustrate the elements of a public value message:
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Note that the program's outcomes may result in private benefits, public value, and sponsor benefits. Moreover, the sponsor's interests may overlap with those of the program participant (private benefits) and the greater community (public value). In the case of the farm transfer program, a sponsoring attorney may value improved business outcomes for her clients, as well as an increase in demand for her own estate planning services. Being a member of the same community as her clients, she may also value the economic vitality and social capital improvements that arise from the program.

So, generally, where the interests of a third-party sponsor coincide with--or at least do not compete with--a program's public value, a sponsorship can create a win-win-win-win for Extension, program participants, the sponsor, and the community.

April 23, 2010

Fall program conference input

I am on the planning committee for the University of Minnesota Extension Fall Program Conference. For any readers from University of Minnesota Extension, please share your ideas or preferences for this year's conference. Would you be interested in any public value trainings? What other kinds of offerings would be useful? Feel free to share in the comments or in an email to me. Thank you!2CM-ExtWdmk.gif

November 20, 2009

Disorienting dilemma and public value

I am continuing to look for ways that the theory of transformative learning--including the disorienting dilemma and perspective change that Mezirow (1) included as elements--applies to the "Building Extension's Public Value " workshop. One of the ways we try to encourage a perspective change for workshop participants is by setting up the free market ideal...and then knocking it down, or at least identifying its limitations. Hopefully we create a disorienting dilemma for someone who has bought into that free market ideal.

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For someone who is confident that there is a private-enterprise-driven, government-hands-off solution to every condition that challenges a community, it's hard to see a role for publicly-funded outreach programs. But, once that person understands that free markets and private businesses alone can fail to lead to ideal outcomes, she can see that there is room for the public sector to act to improve those outcomes. Outreach programs in general, and Extension programs in particular, are one way the public sector can take action. (Recall that the "Public Value of Public Programs" workshop makes the same kind of case for outreach education that is sponsored by local governments and non-profits.)

I presented this argument, and the above slide, last week when I guest lectured in the "Transforming Public Policy" (PA 8001) course in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, here at the University of Minnesota. A student challenged me by saying that she didn't see the point of my illustrating the limitations of the free market argument because she didn't believe it in the first place. She started from the perspective that the public sector has a role in addressing market failure, and so didn't need to make the transformation I was advancing.

Surely, this is often the case: that the audience for the BEPV workshop (Extension professionals) is made up of people who fully grasp the limitations of the market ideal. That's why they work for Extension in the first place! But, the above illustration is really intended to help BEPV participants to view the world from the perspective of a stakeholder who is skeptical about public sector involvement in the economy: someone who highly values the role of private enterprise. Hopefully, BEPV participants will then be better positioned to make their case for Extension to that skeptical stakeholder, perhaps by setting up the disorienting dilemma and inducing a perspective change in them.

(1) Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

November 16, 2009

Minnesota's Cooperative Extension Model

Those of you working within Cooperative Extension have likely heard about Minnesota Extension's major reorganization and shift to a regional/county program delivery model. I frequently field questions about the shift: Why did Minnesota make the change? How did it happen? What has been the result? How is Minnesota Extension doing now?

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I am very grateful that George Morse and a knowledgeable team of co-authors have now published a book, The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis, that answers these questions and more.

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On his blog, "Economics in Cooperative Extension," George Morse explains what the book is about:

"The Minnesota Response explains how Minnesota Extension responded to its mission and money crisis in 2004 with a sweeping reorganization. Breaking with 95 years of tradition, Minnesota Extension shifted from a county based delivery model to a regional/county delivery model. Regionalization, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Several other policies define Minnesota's new approach, including changes in funding sources, degree of specialization of the regional educators, more statewide program teams, development of business plans, increased use of market research, supervision of field educators by program specialists rather than geographic supervisors, and new scholarship and promotion expectations. The Minnesota Response details these policies and reports on their initial impacts on program quality, scholarship, access to Extension, and public support for Extension."

The full citation to the book is: George Morse, Jeanne Markell, Philip O'Brien, Adeel Ahmed, Thomas Klein, and Larry Coyle. The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis. iUniverse, Bloomington, October 2009. 428 pages.

It is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com in soft cover or hard cover.

Google Books allows you to read some of the book. To find the book easily, enter the full title at the Google Books link. George has also included some excerpts at his blog.

I'd be pleased to hear of your reactions to the "Minnesota Model" and to the book, and I'm sure George would be, too. Feel free to share your reactions in the comment section here (particularly as they relate to public value) or at George's blog.