Do they teach bureaucrats marketing?

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I admit this post’s headline can sound a bit snarky, but it reflects a legitimate curiosity that struck me recently. After all my posts here about a lack of marketing know-how in the public and social sectors, I started wondering if public and social leaders are ever introduced to marketing concepts.

I turned to Harvard University for answers, specifically the course listings at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. According to the Kennedy School website, “More than 46,000 Kennedy School alumni reside in more than 200 countries and territories and serve in a wide range of positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.”

What I found in the listings intrigued me. Several course titles caught my interest, and would fit right in with my blog:

  • Innovating in the Public Sector
  • Strategic Management of Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Private and Social Sectors
  • Industry Structure, Strategy, and Public Policy
  • Why Are So Many Countries Poor, Volatile, and Unequal?
  • Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social & Economic Problems

I thought I swore off college after I finishing my MBA (my second masters), but reading these course listings might sway me to reconsider.

But this begs the question: why don’t we see more bold examples of innovation, strategic management, entrepreneurship in the public sector, if our best and brightest leaders are exposed to such courses in their education?

As an exercise in argumentation, I can think of several possible answers to my own question:

  • We do have bold, marketing-based approaches, but the scale of governmental and social challenges is so large it dwarfs those approaches.
  • We do have bold, marketing-based approaches, but they don’t get much if any exposure in the media, so we don’t know much about them.
  • Government and social sectors are so large compared to the number of sector leaders training in marketing approaches that organizational and cultural factors swallow any attempts at marketing-based approaches.
  • University programs to offer these courses, but too few people take them or the courses don’t translate into real-world practices, so that the actual impact on the public and social sectors is negligible.

I suspect the real answer is a mix of all these possibilities, and probably some others as well (fraud, ineptitude, politics).

But it’s heartening to me to know that at least some of our public and social sectors leaders have some exposure to the importance of product design, pricing, distribution, and promotion as it pertains to their field. May we see more innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic management improving our social sphere.

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