Recent decades have brought periodic waves of interest in finding better ways of mapping and measuring public and social value – outcomes, institutions and services that are valued by the public but not easy to count in the way that the monetary value of cars or computers can be. Governments and parliaments have sometimes tried to encourage this. In the UK for example, the Social Value Act explicitly encouraged broader notions of value, as have recent revisions of the Treasury Green Book used to assess public spending choices.
But these generally remain underdeveloped and lack influence compared to more traditional market valuation methods. Within government there are still far more developed means for measuring investment in physical things – railways, roads, airports – than in intangibles like reducing social isolation, improving health or the arts. This almost certainly continues to skew public spending.
It’s obviously wrong to claim that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. But the lack of well-established metrics for public value in all its forms makes it harder to compare alternatives and continues to bias public spending against prevention rather than cure, against indirect benefits relative to direct ones, and against intangibles relative to physical objects…
SOURCE: Mulgan G, Breckon J, Tarrega M, Bakhshi H, Davies J, Khan H, Finnis A. “Public Value: How can it be measured, managed and grown?” Nesta, May 2019.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia