The project has used both an historical approach in examining the evolution of public office in the UK and encouraging reflection on the way in which colonial legacies have influenced the development of political and administrative systems in Mexico and Keny. At the same time, we have recognised a variety of different and potentially conflicting approaches at work in these political systems, especially in relation to attempts to control , monitor and direct the conduct of those in public office (although the comments below will refer primarily to those in administrative office). Consider for example, these dimensions:
Relying on interests vs relying on values (Incentives vs integrity):
Do people do what they do in public office because it is in their interests – because positively rewarded or negatively sanctioned – or because they have integrity, the right commitments and beliefs, and where do these come from? In attempting to ensure that public office functions appropriately, what types of mechanisms tend to be drawn on and what assumptions do they make about the way to motivate conduct. How do these affect training, etc. It is common to find a strong emphasis in incentives and disincentives in contexts where the resources for implementing such an approach are limited - for example, to contour incentives sufficiently to ensure compliance, one needs a high level of transparency and accountability, and these are often missing. Moreover, quetions need to be asked about how far up the organisation such an approach can operate - a version of Juvenal's comment - Who guards the guardians! And, if we expect to rely on integrity, we need to be clear about what beliefs and practices will encourage the development of integrity (and how widely these can operate throughout an organisation or sector).
The problem of culture (social, institutional, political) - virtue ethics:
Should we think of countries, or parts of the public service as having a particular culture, which shapes and determines people’s behaviour, and that can support certain virtues, but may equally re-inforce certain vices and negative practices? What is the relationship between institutional culture and its norms and wider societal norms and expectations - is that relationship essentially continuous and consensual or antagonistic? The recent redevelopment of work on virtue ethics has often emphasised the embeddedness of virtues within a wider range of cultural practices, norms and traditions. This raises concerns about cultural relativism and might be seen as carrying implications of backwardness in relation to some cultures, although it is not clear that such fears are necessarily justified.
Working from practices:
How much do we know about what people actually do? – and how they navigate their responsibilities? – and what do we know about the way in which people make choices under demanding conditions? We have learnt a good deal here from the work of Gerhard Anders and his associates - who have sought to identify the practices that civil servants and other public officials angge in, and their justifications for such practices, to identify areas in which new practices and changes might be possible. We see this practical approach as a valuable development in the field, and while it is less historically orientated than our approach, and eschews some of the more conceptual interests of this project (although those involved have contributed widely in the field) we see it as offering a valuable complement to our work. See their Project Page here
Nudge involves creating relatively minor and often subliminal prompts in people’s environments to get them to behave differently. If you want to promote healthy eating, you put fruit, not candy bars need the till. The economics of 'Nudge' has been a major development in behavioural economics, but it has many critics, and it is better at some forms of change than others. It also tends to rely in subliminal influence, which raises important ethical questions.Noetheless, in any given context, it is important to consider the pro’s and cons of a nudge approach and to reflect on ways in which it migt complement other initiatives.
The place of judgement – proverbs, narratives, parables – hard cases:
The literature on the reform of public service, epecially in relation to developing states, tends to emphaisise incentives and controls; and it tends to be responded to by those in public office with a concern with compliance and rule-following. And yet, there are good grounds for doubting that public service can be enntirely rule-based. In many cases, perhaps especially in politics, but certainly also in the upper reaches of public service, people need judgment in decision making. And the way in which they make judgments, and the extent to which they are trrained in judgment ae important issues. One way of exploring this dimension is to reflect on the resources for thinking about conduct in public office tht might exist in local proverbs, and common stories – are there forums in which these more traditional resources might be drawn on to shape behaviour. How are difficult decisions handled within an organisation? How are they taken, on what basis, by whom, and with what degree of reflection and transaparency?