25 September 2013

The Ethics Challenge in Public Service: A Problem-Solving Guide by Carol W. Lewis and Stuart C. Gilman has been released in a 3rd edition.

(Stuart Gilman provided guidance to the State Services Commission when the Standards of Iintegrity and Conduct were first promoted in 2007.  The “6 Trust Elements”, the framework for that code, were derived from his paper on Ethics Codes and Codes of Conduct as Tools for Promoting an Ethical and Professional Public Service: Comparative Successes and Lessons prepared for the OECD and World Bank.)

The Ethics Challenge in Public Service  is widely used as a resource for Public Sector Ethics courses. The authors place importance on ethics for establishing and preserving the public trust that is essential for effective government. Codes are necessary to ensure consistency across government. Individual moral frameworks are not sufficient; “…although self-sufficiency may be popularly admired, it is inadequate in a head-on collision over contending ethical values and principles.”  Common sense is not sufficient either – “…:  “common sense is only as virtuous as the decision maker’s character and only as useful as the situation is simple…”

A code provides a safety valve in agencies, preventing conformance with misguided practices of managers. “Clear ethical standards give public employees more workplace self-rule by ensuring that they know the standards to which they will be held accountable. This limits the pressures supervisors and political leaders can put on public employees to act in ways contrary to the code.”

The “6 Trust Elements” can be identified in much of the writing – the need to have a code, to promote it, to integrate it into the way an agency operates, for managers to lead by example, for prompt action to be taken on breaches, and for staff to know the consequences that flow from such breaches.

Integrating expected behaviour is important – of ethical behaviour being the norm in an agency and of work groups talking about integrity. But if there is no example, if ethics training is not important, a culture of integrity will not emerge.  Managers must lead by example, they must encourage conversations about doing the right thing. But also “…responsible managers try to reduce temptation through routine procedures and controls…” An ethical organization is the core of what we understand public service to be in democracies.”