My name is Victoire de Marans and I am intern at Your Public Value. On January 24th I was offered the chance to participate in my first Public Value Lab at the headquarters of Multiplex, a global construction firm, in the center of London. As a 23 year-old, I was extremely interested in understanding the idea of an inclusive society and our role as citizens in shaping it. Below are my thoughts on the experience.

“When I was first introduced to the concept of a Public Value Lab, I must admit the whole notion of such an event and how it would come together was quite abstract to me. Yet gathering experts on environmental, societal and governance issues to brainstorm how to better include citizens AND the environment as stakeholders in business and growth processes seemed not only interesting, but necessary given the current climate of distrust around corporations and institutions, and their failure to act decisively on issues like climate change. Moreover, I was intrigued by the debates that would arise from discussions between like-minded experts from diverse backgrounds; if everyone agreed on the core of the principles from the start, what would the debates be about? As it turns out, the Public Value Lab in London was a rewarding experience and offered me new insights into what public value can achieve for our society. This article aims to recap the discussions that took place, but also the experts’ objectives and how their 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 posed by the team of Your Public Value. Particularly interesting for me was the reflection on the “invisible” stakeholders impacted by a company’s actions. Our experts found it challenging to keep in mind that positive impact in one area can have negative impacts on another, particularly marginalised or overlooked groups that lack the means or the knowledge to articulate their views in the public space. Ideas also came up about the impact businesses can have on their immediate and extended spheres of influence, starting with their employees and their respective communities. These invisible or overlooked stakeholders are at centre of the concept of public value, and make it especially interesting and challenging to reflect upon. With this first exercise, the participants had to identify any invisible stakeholders to keep in mind when creating their own public value principles.

The three areas covered during this Lab were: Environment, Society and Governance (ESG). The experts first discussed what was important to them in their respective area, before formulating two principles to apply within each area. The key challenge in these discussions was to make the principles as ambitious and powerful as possible, yet comprehensible, realistic and acceptable for businesses. This problem led to a lot of discussion throughout the day about the wording of the principles to achieve a real call for ambition and for effective actions. Another main issue was 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 market pressure experienced by companies. 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, many agreed the necessity to give back to nature more than we take was an imperative, considering the current state of our planet and the extent of biodiversity loss.

Shaping an inclusive society

The next session saw the groups switch places to evaluate the other group’s output and take the discussions even further. The basis of the public value principles was already there, and now the main objective was to refine and edit these proposals to make a final statement on which to vote. One discussion 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”, and the main point was to specify whose values we are talking about and what should be done when others’ (customers for example) values seem unethical to us. The participants came up against another stumbling block 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 environmentally beneficial policies end up causing damage to society, as we saw with the Yellow Vests  in France. In these cases, how do we choose who we impact negatively and with which criteria? Lively 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 can never be answered in one afternoon, the participants finally agreed on the wording and the content of 10 final “London Principles” that will be voted upon in subsequent 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 the ambition matching their own personal values. The following Lab will be hosted by EY in Zurich and will gather a different group of experts to reflect on public value and create their own set of principles. The difference in backgrounds between the London experts and those invited to Zurich in February will probably result in a shift of perspective and highlight different elements. The progression of this event is going to be extremely interesting, and will hopefully further our efforts to enhance trust and inclusivity.”

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