Public value: What’s on your billboard?

It’s often easy to see the private value that Michigan State University Extension brings to individuals – the 4-H’er who gains important life skills, the farmer who increases his income, the entrepreneur who becomes a success or the family that adopts a healthy diet.

A little harder to communicate to others is the public value our organization brings. For example, a young person involved in one of our youth programs will be less likely to engage in criminal behavior. This lowers the number of youth in the judicial system, which in turn saves money for the county and contributes to a peaceful community.

Similarly, we educate consumers on food safety, and that knowledge affects the community at large, perhaps preventing an outbreak of food-borne illness. Through our work with farmers markets and the Cottage Food Law, consumers benefit from a wider selection of local foods. They benefit from our programs without being direct clients. Our work in agriculture, tourism and other businesses leads to economic stability in those areas. The entire community benefits through our work with water quality leading to a greater protection of the environment.

We need to communicate to our stakeholders and others that Extension has value not only to clients but also to the community at large. Over the next year, we’ll work on developing some public value statements. Please start thinking about the public value of your program. How can we document that public value? How might we use that to convince the public as well as legislators and county commissioners that they should maintain their investment in us as a service?

Imagine a blank billboard overlooking a major road in the community where you work. What would you write on that billboard to explain to those driving by the benefit of MSU Extension programming to their community? What can you say to convince them of the value of the work that we do?

As you write qualitative statements about the work that we do, think as well about how to quantify our work. Ultimately, we’re going to depend on the reporting that comes in related to the logic models and the outcomes of those logic models to be able to tell compelling stories of public value.

Throughout your day in the work you do, begin to think about how your reaching one client will benefit the entire community.

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