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July 29, 2010

The public university's mission is to...create public value?

Around the country Extension organizations are using the public value approach to make a case for public funding for Extension programs and, in some cases, for the organization as a whole. But, can the public value approach help make a case for public higher education funding, generally? This was--understandably--a topic of conversation yesterday when I taught a short workshop for the Public Higher Education Advocacy Professionals, who held their annual conference here at the University of Minnesota.
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One answer is that the public value of a state university is the sum of the public value from everything the university does: teaching and granting degrees, outreach education, research, athletics, art performances, continuing education, public engagement, community service, etc. The "public value message" for the university is the [rather thick] catalog of messages for all of the programs in each of these categories.

A more satisfactory answer--and the one I think university advocates are seeking--would convey the public value of the institution in a single, compelling, all-purpose statement. To me, this sounds like a mission statement for the university, with the stipulation that it focus on public value: how the university benefits those who do not have direct contact with the university. The institution's public value statement answers the question, as if posed by a state resident with no access to university resources, "What are you doing for me?"

A short web search reveals that some public university mission statements already include the answer. Below I excerpted from mission statements the pieces that sounded the most like public value messages:

Michigan State University:

"[The university's teaching prepares students] to contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders...[The university's research] make[s] make a positive difference, both locally and globally...[The university's outreach and public engagement] lead to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world."

Oregon State University:

"Oregon State University promotes economic, social, cultural and environmental progress for the people of Oregon, the nation and the world."

Kansas State University:

"The mission of Kansas State University is to foster excellent teaching, research, and service that develop a highly skilled and educated citizenry necessary to advancing the well-being of Kansas, the nation, and the international community."

Many public universities see their missions as generally making the state--indeed, the world--a better place. As long as that "betterment" extends to people without direct contact with the university, the institution has accomplished its public value mission, as well.

November 9, 2008

Public value or stakeholder value?

Last week I gave a brief talk about "Building Extension's Public Value" at a meeting of the Outreach and Engagement Leadership Group of Oregon State University Extension. An interesting question came up with regard to the slide I use to describe the elements of a public value message (below):

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I always describe the lower right box (the maroon/pink box) as including any of the sources of public value: narrowing an information gap, addressing a concern about fairness or justice, encouraging public benefits, and discouraging public costs. A conference participant asked if the schematic could be used to explain how an Extension program addresses a stakeholder's concern, even if that concern is not necessarily related to the common good. One would think of the maroon box as representing "stakeholder value," rather than public value, and it could include anything that the stakeholder cares about. For example, if an Extension program team is seeking funding for a program from a corporate sponsor, they could demonstrate that the behavioral changes and outcomes of the program lead to increased customer share (or profits, or visibility, or whatever the cponsor cares about) for the corporation. The message would be, "If you sponsor our program, you will enjoy a larger customer share."

In a sense, the public value approach already does this,whether our sponsor is in the public, nonprofit, or private sector. We try to determine what the sponsor cares about, and see how our mission coincides with theirs. By identifying and communicating the public value of the program, we are also showing how our program addresses the sponsors concerns. For example, consider a granting entity whose primary concern is local economic vitality. We use our public value message to explain how, when participants complete our program, they make behavior changes that enliven the local economy--which both generates public value (everyone in the local region benefits) and contributes directly to the sponsor's mission.

I would not go so far, though, as to replace the "public value" box in the above diagram with a "stakeholder value" box. As long as our programs are at least partially funded by taxpayer contributions, whether from state, country, or federal taxes, I think we need to focus on the value we create for the general public. We wouldn't want to alter our programs to serve the interests of sponsors at the expense of the public good. I think the focus should still be on how the public value that a program generates conincides with the interests of a potential sponsor.

What do you think?