On January 24th I was offered to participate in my first Public Value Lab in the Multiplex facilities in the center of London. As a 23 year old, I was extremely interested in understanding inclusive society and citizens’ role in shaping it. Below are my thoughts on this experience.
As I was first introduced to the concept of Public Value Lab, I must admit that the unfolding and the technical details of such an event seemed quite abstract to me. Yet gathering experts on environment, civil society and governance to work together on public value and how to better include the environment and the citizens in growth and businesses appeared quite interesting and necessary regarding the current crisis of distrust, global warming and the key events of 2019. Moreover, I was intrigued by the debates that would come up from the discussion between people sharing the same values. If everyone could agree on the core of the principles from the start, what would be the debates about? The Lab of January 24th in the facilities of Multiplex at the very heart of London was a very rewarding experience and offered me new perspectives on what public value can do for our society. This article aims at giving an insight on the discussions that took place that day, but also on the objectives of experts and how these ambitions were reflected in the final principles.
A focus on invisible stakeholders
The Lab participants were first divided into three groups to reflect on different questions proposed by the team of Your Public Value. Particularly interesting for me was the reflection on the invisible stake holders impacted by companies’ actions. Our experts found challenging to keep in mind the negative effects on the parts of the society that are particularly sensitive yet remain hidden because of the lack of means for them to get a voice in the public space. Ideas also came up about how businesses have an impact on their close working environment, starting with their workers. These invisible stakeholders are at centre of the concept of public value and make it especially interesting to reflect upon. With this first exercise, the participants had these invisible stakeholders in mind when building their own public value principles.
The three areas covered during Public Value Labs are: Environment, Society and Good Governance. The experts first discussed the core of the new principles in the morning before the rest of the group had the possibility to amend them or add elements. The key challenge in the morning discussions was to make these principles as ambitious and powerful as possible, but yet doable and acceptable for businesses. This problem led to a lot of discussions about the wording of the principles throughout the day to achieve a real call for ambition and for effective actions. Another main issue was on how to drive change, and where this decisive impulse should come from. The participants agreed that making a step towards more inclusivity and sustainability would necessitate internal changes originating from our own values as individuals, even though sometimes these values clash with the pressure exerted by the company. Finally, the last key debate for the morning session was about whether environmental neutrality should encompass the necessity to regenerate or if adding this step would be too ambitious. Before the break, the necessity to give back to nature more than what we take appeared as a necessity considering the current state of our planet and of the biodiversity.
Shaping an inclusive society
The afternoon working session on the principles draft took the discussions even further. The basis of the public value principles was already there, and the main objective was to refine these proposals to make a final statement to be voted. One of the discussions on the definition of values particularly caught my attention. Our experts had to decide on a word to define the values touched upon by one of the social principles. The debate was between the terms “humanistic” and “universal”. The main point was to precise whose values we are talking about and what should be done when other’s (customers for example) values seem unethical to us. The participants stumbled upon such a debate again when discussing the “better worse” and the possibility for a negative action to be compensated by positive effects in the end. The most striking example of this debate was that sometimes environmental beneficial policies end up causing social damages, as we saw during the Yellow Vests crisis in France. In these cases, how do we choose who we impact negatively and on which criteria? Vivid discussions also addressed the purpose of companies themselves: what should be done about companies that pollute but yet do not produce something vital for humanity? Even though these questions cannot be answered in only one afternoon, the participants finally agreed on the wording and the content of 10 final “London Principles” that will then be voted upon in further Labs.
At the end of the London Public Value Lab, the participants voted and adopted a set of 10 principles reflecting the discussions and ideas shared that day as well as ambition matching their own personal values. The following Lab will be hosted by EY in Zurich and will gather different types of experts to reflect on public value and adopt a new set of principle. The difference of background between the London experts and the participants invited in Zurich in February will probably result in a shift of reflection and will shed a light on different elements. This event is going to be extremely interesting and will add up to our efforts to enhance trust and inclusivity.