Public Value Accounting: Establishing the Philosophical Basis

Published date01 July 2014
Date01 July 2014
Mark H. Moore is Hauser Professor
of Non-Prof‌i t Organizations in the John
F. Kennedy School of Government at
Harvard University and Simon Professor
of Organizations, Management, and
Education in Harvard’s Graduate School
of Education. He is author of Creating
Public Value: Strategic Management
in Government (Harvard University Press,
1995) and Recognizing Public Value
(Harvard University Press, 2013).
Public Value Accounting: Establishing the Philosophical Basis 465
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 465–477. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12198.
Mark H. Moore
Harvard University
Questions of how best to def‌i ne the ends, justify the
means, and measure the performance of governments
have preoccupied political economists for centuries.
Recently, the concept of public value—def‌i ned in terms
of the many dimensions of value that a democratic public
might want to see produced by and ref‌l ected in the per-
formance of government—has been proposed as an alter-
native approach.  is article develops three philosophical
claims central to the practice of public value accounting:
(1) when the collectively owned assets of government are
being deployed, the appropriate arbiter of public value
is the collectively def‌i ned values of a “public” called into
existence and made articulate through the quite imperfect
processes of democratic governance; (2) the collectively
owned assets include not only government money but also
the authority of the state; (3) the normative framework
for assessing the value of government production relies
on both utilitarian and deontological philosophical
From Rhetoric to Substantive Challenge
My research on the idea of “public value” began in
the early 1990s. It was a time when the techniques of
private managers, such as focusing on customers and
using quantitative performance measures, were being
pressed on government managers as keys to improving
performance (Osborne and Gaebler 1993).
The Rhetorical Idea
e idea drew on a simple analogy: if private manag-
ers were committed to using their imagination and
skills to produce private value for shareholders using
private assets, then public managers should use their
imagination and skills to produce public value for citi-
zens using the public assets held
by democratic governments.
Following this logic, I con-
sidered that perhaps the most
important private sector idea for
public managers to embrace was
the idea that they should earn
their keep by creating public
value (Moore 1995).
To claim that government and its managers existed
to create public value sounded odd when govern-
ment was being described as “the problem rather
than the solution.” At the time, even those who
counted themselves as friends of government tended
to see government as a kind of neutral referee that
could order relationships and regulate conf‌l ict in
society rather than as a creator of substantive value
(Friedman 1996).  e assertion that government
and its managers could stand alongside the private
sector and its managers as producers of real material
value for individuals in society, though far from new,
seemed to run counter to the prevailing assumptions.
Despite the reigning skepticism, however, citizens of
democracies and their elected representatives continued
to spend money on governmental activities.1 ey also
continued to grant the government the authority to
regulate their conduct in many private spheres, from
environmental protection to restrictions on the sale of
alcohol and tobacco to the protection of voting rights.
It also remained true that democratic governments,
eager to build legitimacy for the choices they made,
often created forums within which citizens could discuss
the social conditions in which they lived and debate
whether and how they might act collectively to change
those conditions.2 It followed logically and behaviorally
that citizens had to believe that government was produc-
ing something of value to them as citizens—something
that could be described (and, ideally, recognized through
performance measurement) as “public value.
Others had long defended the view that government
created public value using other words. But this sim-
ple concept, once articulated,
posed a useful challenge to the
prevailing political discourse.
e word value implicitly
rejected neoliberal ideas that
sought to limit government’s
concerns to technical ef‌f orts to
counter various forms of market
Public Value Accounting: Establishing
the Philosophical Basis
e word value implicitly
rejected neoliberal ideas that
sought to limit government’s
concerns to technical ef‌f orts to
counter various forms of market

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