Attaining Public Value through Ethical Decision Making

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Ethics, defined as a set of principles that provides a framework for right actions (Lawton et al., 2013), has long held the interest of organisational scholars. Much extant research on why or how organisations respond to ethical issues has been the focus of most studies. Organisations are often faced with ethical issues as to why people behave in various ways. This can be attributed to the different motives people have for making ethical decisions, broadly classified as: obeying direct instructions (compliance); copying others because of the presumption that their response may be right in the given situation (informational conformity) and engaging in what other do in order to fit in (normative conformity) (Cialdini and Goldstein, 2004). Public value, on the other hand, is the strategic approach that instigates public sector managers to outline for themselves, managers and organisation the ultimate values they are to produce and embody in their operations (Moore, 2013). Most public sector organisations create high expectations in citizens that are far from being satisfied. In contrast, these expectations portray that public officers are accountable to citizens' demands and needs; but these officers are also expected to be loyal and responsive to their superiors. In such situation, the choice appears not only to be difficult but also irresolute. According to the Sir Isaiah Berlin (1969, cited in Seligma et al., 2013), “…. the simple point ... is that where ultimate values are irreconcilable, clear-cut solutions cannot, in principle, be found”. The competition between conflicting factors is not always understood and resolved as the ethical problems for public officers; however, the failure to resolve them has negative consequences, such as: low public trust, and resentment in citizens, politicians and public servants. This leads to the problem of addressing ethical issues with laxity, whereas they are complex and perhaps formally insoluble. Therefore, this study is set out to explore how public value can be attained through ethical decision making, in order to improve public service delivery within the context of Africa. The objectives of the study are to (1) explore the stakeholders perception on public value; (2) analyse the impact of ethical decisions on public value delivery; and (3) examine the measures of improving public value ethically. The method that would be used to achieve these objectives is a mixed method. The data on which this study is based are collected from secondary resources, while empirical data from stakeholders (in selected African countries) will be collected quantitatively and qualitatively. The secondary sources used are relevant textbooks, journal articles and government publications on ethics and the African public sector. The conceptual framework is based on the fact that researchers, over the years, have covered various aspects of ethical decisions making. Nonetheless, there is the research gap in examining the impact of ethical decision in attaining public value, particularly in Africa; which this study seeks to explore. Thus, leading to the hypothesis that: (H1) public officers’ positive reaction to EDM may improve PV, and (H2) EDM through the understanding of PV may lead to improve public service. In order to firmly ground this research in theory, the conceptual framework (Figure 1) is drawn from different streams of literature. In particular, the works of Trevino et al. (1998) and Pierce and Synder (2008), which connotes that “employees working in an organisation with an ethical code of conduct are expected to make more ethical decisions, whereas those working in organisations in which unethical behavior is widespread are more likely to make unethical decisions themselves“. In contrast, the researcher’s assumption is that a personal understanding of public value could influence ethical decision in an unethical environment. The possible findings and implication of this study will unearthed our understanding of various ethical and unethical decisions; and thus contribute to the contextualization of this understanding in attaining improved public value in Africa. Figure 1 – Conceptual framework for the study References Cialdini, R. B. & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: compliance and conformity. In Fiske, S.T., Sachacter, D. L. and Zahn-Waxler, C. (Eds.). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 55: 591-621. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews. Lawton, A’, Rayner, J. & Lasthuizen, K. (2013). Ethics and management in the public sector. Oxon, UK: Routledge. Moore, M. H. (2013). Recognising public value. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Pierce, L. & Snyder, J. (2008). Ethical spillovers in firms: Evidence from vehicle emissions testing. Management Science, 54: 1891-1903. Seligma, C., Olson, J. M. & Zanna, M. P. (2013), The psychology of values: The Ontario symposium. Vol. 8, Oxon, UK: Psychology Press. Trevino, L. K., Butterfield, K. & McCabe, D. (1998). The ethical context in organisations: influences on employee attitudes and behaviours. Business Ethics Quarterly, 8: 447-476.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
Event2nd workshop on business ethics, European Institute for Advanced Studies Management, - Madrid, Spain
Duration: 28 Nov 201329 Nov 2013


Conference2nd workshop on business ethics, European Institute for Advanced Studies Management,


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