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Public Value: More than just another greenwashing?

On January 26, 2016 the lecture series entitled “Public Value – Vision, Konzepte und praktische Umsetzung” (Public Value – Vision, concepts and practical implementation) began with a kick-off event in Darmstadt. The evening event was opened by the Dean of Studies of Darmstadt Business School Prof. Dr. Christopher Almeling, followed by a lecture from Prof. Dr. Ulrich Klüh, who has been Professor of Economics in the Department of Business since the 2015/16 winter semester. Alexander Schmitt from Hessischer Rundfunk (Hessian Broadcasting Corporation) then led a podium discussion featuring Gisela Kubon-Gilke (Vice President, Protestant University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt (EFH)), Klaus-Michael Ahrend (Board Member, HEAG Holding AG and h_da), Gerhard Grandke (President and Managing Director, German Association of Savings Banks (DSGV) for Hessen-Thüringen) and Jochen Partsch (Mayor of Darmstadt).

Professor Klüh’s lecture entitled: “Public Value: Inszenierung oder Konkretisierung einer vielfältigen Gesellschaftsordnung?” (Public Value: More than just another greenwashing?) provided the initial input for the discussion that followed.  Despite Klüh’s overall critical view on the subject of public value, he nevertheless maintains that even after a very critical analysis, the public value approach still has the potential to improve the impact of organizations on society.

Klüh’s criticism of the public value approach focuses on four main “blind spots”:

  1. Public value as a concept is very much oriented towards the “selfless” executive who takes an interest in the public good. Preference is given to “mover and shaker” types.
  2. While management is seen primarily as a positive force, politics/policy-making is considered a potential “problem” – sometimes even an illegitimate meddler in the affairs of management. There is a latent concern that politics/policymakers will impede managers and limit what they can achieve on behalf of their organizations.
  3. Many writers on the subject imply that the public sector should learn from the private sector and adapt the private sector’s approaches to designing and implementing corporate strategies. Even today’s applications in the corporate sector reflect the notion that private and public-sector organizations largely follow similar rules and similar logic.
  4. There is a strong focus on measurability and quantification – in part a product of the aggressive management style so prevalent since the 1980’s. 

Participants in the subsequent podium discussion shed light on the public value approach from the perspective of their respective areas of expertise.  Gerhard Grandke, for example, likened the public value concept to “old wine in new bottles” since the Sparkasse banks have always been focused on and oriented towards the common good. Ms. Kubon-Gilke warned against paying mere lip service to public value, stressing the importance of filling the term with real substance. Referring to several practical/real-life examples, including local public transport or public swimming pools, Mr. Ahrend pointed out that many of the organizations generating public value run high deficits but nevertheless work very efficiently from a management perspective.

The press – represented by “Echo” – was also on hand to cover the event and conduct an interview with Prof. Klüh on the subject of public value. The lecture series will be continued on February 23, 2016 at 6 p.m. and will conclude, after a total of six events, on July 5, 2016 when students from the Department of Business present the results of their workshop, in which they consider h_da’s impact on society beyond the realm of teaching and research (“Third Mission”). In addition to the lecture series, the second Business Forum – scheduled to take place on September 30, 2016 – will also focus on the topic of public value. The forum will provide students and professors from various disciplines the chance to come together with industry representatives to discuss social issues from the business perspective, and to drive these issues forward for lasting impact and value. 

 More information on the upcoming lectures can be found here.

Recommendations for further reading: this article by Prof. Dr. Ahrend entitled “Corporate Governance in der Energiewirtschaft – zwischen Unternehmenswert und Public Value” (Corporate Governance in the Energy Industry – Between business value and public value).


Prof. Dr. Christopher Almeling


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