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Standards in Public Life

Standards in Public Life

Connecting history and policy

Strong standards of good practice and ethics help to protect against corruption in public office. Professor Mark Knights and Professor Mark Philp’s research into the history and political theory behind these standards have influenced current policy and practice in the UK, Europe and Africa.

Together, they have advised government institutions in the UK, the Council of Europe and members of the Kenyan public service, strengthening key public institutions, and addressing concerns about misconduct, intimidation and public trust.

The challenge

Ethical concerns and conceptions of public office and corruption have changed over time. As such, analysis of standards of public life have to take into account the historical pressures of the time and political context. A one-size-fits-all approach to reform is unlikely to transform public standards in any country effectively. Any package of reforms would need to fit into the larger story of state formation and the local contexts that shape cultural and governance values.

Our approach

Professor Philp chairs the Research Advisory Board for the UK’s Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL). He has used his research to inform their work on a number of topics, including:

  • Intimidation of electoral candidates

  • Training new public sector workers

  • Misconduct

  • AI technologies and their effect on public life

The pair have also worked with NGOs and government bodies outside of the UK. Professor Knights has advised on corruption at events organised by the Italian government’s Autorità Nazionale Anti-Corruzione (ANAC) and the Council of Europe. Professor Philp worked with Kenyan officials to help build capacity and manage the challenges of local government.

Our impact

Their projects have significantly changed ideas about public standards and the ways in which they are enforced in Europe and Africa. In the UK, Professor Philp’s research and recommendations informed the decision to make intimidating candidates in elections an offence, following extensive work with the Jo Cox Foundation. Working with members of the Kenyan Public Service using GCRF funding, Professor Philp developed a training system that created strategies for managing conflicting pressures and identifying ways forward.

Professor Knights’ report and ethical case study for Transparency International have been downloaded over 4000 times and his public talks, including events in Oxford, London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Coventry and Sweden, have engaged a broad public audience with issues of corruption and standards of public office. Media appearances have allowed the pair to highlight particular past scandals and the lessons learnt as a result. Popular history magazines such as History Today and the BBC History Magazine, as well as BBC History online and The Conversation, have all included their findings.

By providing the context needed to engage with the standards that govern public life, Professor Knights and Professor Philp have made a significant difference to public understanding of these issues and to governance both in the UK and abroad.

Read more about the 'Constructions of Public Office'

Read Professor Knights's account of how Britain's history of corruption informs practices today

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