SIIF, stakeholders, and the National Park Service

First, a big thank you to Stern’s SIIF, Net Impact, and the National Park Service (NPS) for the chance to come to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I’m out here on a consulting gig (search for NPS Business Plan Internship, or BPI, for more info) trying to figure out how to share business services across a bunch of different parks in the area. The hope is to figure out a new system for organizing service delivery, whether it be informal sharing, a matrix organization setup, or some other setup.

I have been really interested in the differences between private business and the public sector for some time; the opportunity to come work for the NPS has really given me a good change to investigate them. As an MBA student, I’ve been trained to look at the bottom line, to maximize value for shareholders. This is very different than the work I’ve been doing out here in Indiana, where we have a dual mission that incorporates both resource protection (gotta keep the park pristine!) and visitor access (what’s the point if you can’t come see the park?). This is layered with all sorts of mandates from Congress, which further constrain our actions or require certain behaviors. It makes our lives very interesting, as we have to balance all kinds of new things in equation – and, in my opinion, this also makes the puzzle more fun.

Public service has a completely different feel and flavor from the hardline private sector. The inherent mission-driven nature of public institutions places a holistic respect on all aspects of the work, rather than simply the financial outputs of an action. This mission-based work results in an institution that places value on the public, employees, taxpayers, managers, visitors, and just about everyone else (including people who may never come to the park!).

The public sector’s broad range of stakeholders is very different than the limited scope of the private sector and a lot has recently been written about how we need to expand the scope of the private sector to include some of these public sector values. Yet, the focused private sector has also been the greatest driver of overall human development that we as a species have invented – an ability that we definitely do not want to lose.

How then do we successfully blend these two ideas of business and service? The SIIF fellowship is one step in the right direction, cross-pollinating MBA-trained business thinkers with mission-driven, holistically focused organizations. I personally would like to see more and more of a push towards the middle, moving away from both the extreme focus of business and the wide focus of the public sector. But how to do it? Perhaps I’ll have more insight by the end of the summer – any suggestions as I muddle through the next few months?

— Luke Douglas

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