A Public Value Approach to Analyzing and Intervening in National Educational Systems


Image of Mark Moore

Mark Moore

Intellectual Leadership Team

Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Image of Marla Spivack

Marla Spivack

World Bank

Any analysis of a “National Educational System” reveals a highly complex social production system that is neither a hierarchical organization, nor a market, nor simply a misaligned system of principals and agents. It is, instead, a complex array of social actors bound together through various social structures and processes on one hand, and important functional relationships on the other.

In approaching the challenge of moving that system towards sustained productivity gains, national governments naturally fall prey to the assumption that, in the principal/agent framework they are the principals of the system. But, as we have seen empirically, this idea overestimates the capacities of most central governments in developing countries (Pritchett 2013, Pritchett 2015, Moore and Spivack 2022). The world at large has learned that it is hard to centrally manage complex economies to produce economic prosperity and social equity. It is not obvious that the search for educational improvement is any less difficult. 

Of course, it is not wrong to imagine that the national government can become an important catalyst, motivator, and director of the system that will enhance its productivity – broadly understood. 

The important question, however, is how exactly it should practically do so? How can the central government develop a “strategic capacity” that can keep the widely distributed system as a whole moving towards improved performance with respect to both educational goals, and the wider economic, social, and political purposes that a polity hopes to advance through the provision of educational services. 

Answering that question for a broad class of national governments seeking to promoted sustained educational productivity relative to their goals is the task we will tackle in this essay (Moore and Spivack 2022).


Moore, M. and Spivack, M. 2023. A Public Value Approach to Analyzing and Intervening in National Educational Systems. Research on Improving Systems of Education. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-Misc_2023/10