Public value?

A very recent paper from the University of Albany, NY, USA is by Harrison, Guerrero, Burke et al and entitled “Open Government and E-Government: Democratic Challenges from a Public Value Perspective” and was published in The Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference, June 12 – 15, 2011, College Park, MD, USA. Having considered public value as a metric as far back as 2008 and including it within my research before dismissing it as too woolly, I was a little surprised.

The paper sets out public value as six types: financial, political, social, strategic, ideological and stewardship. It then proposes that value is generated by a set of mechanisms consisting of: efficiency, effectiveness, intrinsic enhancements, transparency, participation and collaboration. It is of course the latter three that combine into ‘open’ government.

The positive end of the proposition is that the researchers accept that quantitative metrics are of little benefit, and that the values, as listed, need to be declared through the appropriate production mechanisms, as listed, from the initiative concerned to the stakeholders. Again, I believe this could be done in a simpler manner through the feedback model proposed on this site.

However, as the paper recognises but politicians don’t “transparency, for example, will not be achieved through the mere downloading of data sets”, since it “must enable citizens to do something they find valuable and important”. They also point out that this applies to participation and collaboration, and that “the citizen input they generate must be represented in outcomes that are visible to stakeholders in the decisions and value produced”.

They also state in the conclusion that the “historic focus of e-government” was “improving policy performance”, whilst I would see this more of an abstract aspiration hoped for by a minority of the those absent from day-to-day service delivery, since it could only be done through the co-design of services that was and still is absent from so many e-government initiatives. They do accept that achieving their aspirations will require structural changes to government, and that the production of public value is in itself a good reason for initiating such changes. My personal view being that the structures are frequently underpinned by complex and historic foundations, whose replacement will require patience and understanding not often available to politicians.

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