Ethics, Democracy, and Professionalism

A public position itself is ethically neutral—used for good or bad, right or wrong— until people use it or, rather, abuse it for something other than solving “people problems” and meeting the mission. To the question, What is important to an ethical public manager? we propose three core answers: (1) ethics, (2) democracy, and (3) professionalism. These combine to protect and promote individual and institutional integrity. Exhibit 1.3 lists the many values and virtues associated with each.

Of course, let us not use the formula to misdirect us into rigidity. The point here is to reflect on the many demands made on public managers, not to fix them in place once and for all time for all of public service. In fact, the many alternatives invite you to add your own preferences, delete ours, or shift choices to other categories.

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Among the alternatives is the OECD’s roster of values. “All OECD countries publish a set of core values for guiding their public servants in daily operations, and they draw these values from the same substantial sources, namely social norms, democra- tic principles and professional ethos” (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2000). The eight most frequently cited core values for public service in the OECD countries were, in numbers of countries: impartiality (24), legality (22), integrity (18), transparency (14), efficiency (14), equality (11), responsibility (11), and justice (10). Another option is the list of values approved by the INDEPENDENT