Following on from last week's blog post I have been working on what should be included in an online course about the principles of managing public money. Below is a snapshot of the mind map I've produced so far.
I like using mind maps for this kind of work. I used to do them with pen and paper but software like Mindnode is so much better. First, if you make a mistake or change your mind you can correct things without crossings out. You can also move items between branches in an instant. Even better, the Mindnode app is on my iPhone and iPad as well as my desktop Mac so, using the power of iCloud, I can access any mind map wherever I am and with whatever device is to hand. This means that if I have an inspirational thought whilst in a supermarket I can quickly add it to the mind map and it will sync to all the devices.
Typically a project like this course, or a long piece of writing, will stay as a mind map for several days, perhaps a week, before I export it into Ulysses (my favourite software for writing) as an outline. I don't keep working on the mind map until it is perfect because I've learned over the years that products need to be good enough, not perfect. Once the outline is in Ulysses I can continue to make tweaks and improvements.
I started off with about 10 branches in the mind map but I realised that would make a course that would be too long. I envisage this being a course that could be completed in a handful of hours because it is just an introduction. A course that could take 10 or more hours to complete is likely to see a high level of drop-off and I would rather students finish the course (even though from a commercial point of view there is nothing for me to gain from it). The challenge for me, therefore, was to keep working at the mind map until I could get it down to five branches, each representing a topic within the course.
I felt that the first section of the course had to be about the big picture--i.e. what is the same and what is different about financial management in the public sector compared with the private sector. I also knew that the budget had to be a topic because it is so fundamental to the way that public bodies operate. That left me with a maximum of three more topics. The ones I have identified are:
- the principles of funding public services, because I think it would be helpful to understand some of the issues relating to taxation and when it might be appropriate to fund services from user fees instead of tax
- principles for making decisions about spending public money, because public managers need to make decisions and they should have some understanding of the concept of value for money
- accounting for public money, because there is a general interest in accountability and transparency and I want students to understand what financial reports do and don't communicate to the reader.
I'm interested to hear your comments. Do you think I've focused on the right things, or are there topic areas you think should be included in the course? Let me know in the comment box below.
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