Mark Moore: Recognizing Public Value
My UM Extension colleague Neil Linscheid has alerted me to this recording of Harvard Kennedy School's Mark Moore discussing his new book, Recognizing Public Value. I haven't read the book yet, but I've ordered it from the library, and I'll write more once I've read it. However, I can share some quick impressions from having listened to the recording of Moore's talk.
Both Moore and his discussant, Tiziana Dearing of the Boston College School of Social Work, commented on the limitations of monetizing public value created by service providers. Starting around 28:00 of the recording, Moore explains that to measure the value created by government, we are often challenged with "describing material conditions that are hard to monetize....We don't know how to convert them into some kind of cash value." He doesn't give examples, but it's easy to imagine changes in civic or social conditions as falling into this category. Moore then decries the amount of effort that goes into trying to monetize these effects and says that effort "mostly distorts the information rather than clarifies." For clarity, he would prefer a concrete description of the effect (presumably something like units of pollutant reduction or increase in graduation rates) to "somebody's elaborate method to try monetize it."
Dearing shares Moore's skepticism of monetizing government and nonprofit benefits, and around 42:00 of the recording says, "It's a very dangerous thing outside of the private sector to have the same enthusiasm for the bottom line." Later she warns that "it's so easy to follow the metrics that follow the dollar that it becomes shorthand for a theory of change."
In this post, I also urged caution about monetizing the impacts of Extension programs. Nevertheless, when they are carefully framed and rigorously executed, dollar-denominated metrics such as cost-benefit analyses allow for comparison across programs. I wonder how Moore and Dearing would advise a local government that is choosing between anti-pollution and education investments when the only impact data they have is a "concrete description of the effects"? How would they balance units of pollutant mitigation with a percentage change in the graduation rate?
Have you read Moore's new book or at least listened to his talk? What do you think about what Dearing calls our "enthusiasm for the bottom line"? Do we go too far in trying to translate program impacts into dollars? What other contributions of the new book are particularly relevant for Extension?