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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.

June 4, 2010

Revising the public value curriculum

This summer I will be updating the curriculum materials for the "Building Extension's Public Value (BEPV)" and "Public Value of Programs (PVofPP)" workshops. For each workshop, we are updating the slideset, the participant's workbook, and the presenter's guide.
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If you have taken the BEPV train-the-trainer course and are using the curriculum materials to teach your own BEPV workshops, or if you are a UM Extension Educator who teaches PVofPP, I would love to hear your suggestions for revising the materials. Have you noticed typos in the printed materials? Have you thought of ways the workshop activities can be improved? Can you suggest updated examples for presenters to use? Are there images or graphics that you think would improve the materials' look? Please share any ideas at all in the comments here or in an email to me.

Thank you for your suggestions. I look forward to sharing the revised materials later in the year.

March 30, 2010

Efficient, benevolent, and honorable...government?

Yesterday I taught a short version of the "Public Value of Public Programs (PVPP)" workshop for a Public Affairs class at the University of Minnesota. The PVPP workshop content is similar to that of the BEPV workshop, and the objectives are the same: to help people who develop, teach, evaluate, and advocate for publicly funded outreach programs to make a case for that public funding. The difference is that PVPP is not directed at Extension professionals, but at program providers in the government and nonprofit sectors.

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I presented the slide below to introduce the idea that under conditions of market failure, collective action(for example, by the public or nonprofit sector) can improve the outcome for a community.

A student asked whether I was assuming that government or nonprofits would act efficiently and in the best interests of the people. In some developing countries, he noted, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are sometimes inefficient and corrupt. Their action, even in the presence of market failures, can make a community worse off than if the market failures had persisted.

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Indeed, the PVPP program addresses the role of the public and nonprofit sectors when private enterprises ("the market") fail, but is silent on the possibility of government or nonprofit failures. A shortcoming, indeed.

So, yes, to make a strong case for public funding of a program, it is necessary not only to explain how a public or nonprofit organization can in theory address issues that the private sector cannot (market failure), but to provide evidence that your organization will in practice act efficiently, benevolently, and honorably for the public good.

In Extension's case, we can safely assume that our organizations always act efficiently, benevolently and honorably, right? Right?

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.

October 9, 2009

2008 NACDEP Award

Last September, at the Galaxy III conference in Indianapolis, I was very pleased and honored to receive NACDEP's Individual Award for Excellence in Community Development Programming for the "Public Value of Public Programs" workshop. Unfamiliar with NACDEP, the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals? You shouldn't be! Check out the NACDEP website.

October 13, 2008

Follow up to Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference

On October 3, 2008, I lead a session titled "Making the Case: Articulating the Common Good in Public and Nonprofit Programs" at the annual conference of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits in St. Paul, MN. The session, described here, was based on the UM Extension companion program to "Building Extension's Public Value" that is directed to local government and nonprofit program providers: "Public Value of Public Programs." (Scroll down to "Educational Offerings.") The "Public Value of Public Programs" workshop is taught across Minnesota by UM Extension Community Economics Educators. If you want to read more about "PVPP," it was featured in a recent issue of UM Extension's magazine, Source. The article is here.

We had about 150 people attend the "Making the Case" breakout session at the MNCN conference. As with other short presentations, I had to leave out a lot of the PVPP content, and we didn't have time for small group work. However, there were some very good comments and questions from an audience representing a wide range of nonprofit organizations. One participant asked about the public value of research conducted at a nonprofit nature center, which can be addressed by thinking about what would happen in the absence of the program. Without the nature center's research, would the research agenda be advanced? By whom? Would the resulting research be in the public domain? Would research focus on knowledge that advances the public good? In short, the nature center creates public value by generating knowledge that creates public benefits; knowledge that would not have been created in the absence of the center's work.

Even with the tight session time, one participant at the MNCN session drafted and shared a compelling public message for a program that assists older foster kids in finding permanent homes. She named public benefits, including the greater likelihood that adopted kids will succeed in school and alleviating the burden on the foster care system. But, as an adoptive parent herself, the private benefits she named were equally compelling: the privilege and pleasure of adding a new, cherished family member and new face in family photos!

Did you attend the MNCN public value session? What did you think went well? What should I have done differently?