Public values are moving from a research concern to policy discourse and management practice. There are, though, different readings of what public values actually mean. Reflection suggests two distinct strands of thinking: a generative strand that sees public value emerging from processes of public debate; and an institutional interpretation that views public values as the attributes of government producers. Neither perspective seems to offer a persuasive account of how the public gains from strengthened public values. Key propositions on values are generated from comparison of influential texts. A provisional framework is presented of the values base of public institutions and the loosely coupled public propositions flowing from these values. Value propositions issue from different governing contexts, which are grouped into policy frames that then compete with other problem frames for citizens’ cognitive resources. Vital democratic commitments to pluralism require public values to be distributed in competition with other, respected, frames.
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