trust government

How philosophical ethics can build public trust in government

24 June, 2021

There’s a strong trend in a lot of organisations to try to address ethical issues through system design, behavioural economics and nudging. Ethicist Dr Matt Beard understands the motivation behind it but has concerns about that development, as he shares in this article in The Mandarin.

“Instead of trying to deal with the problem of unethical behaviour by deactivating people’s ability to choose, if instead we focus on expanding and developing their capacity to choose well — which is the work that philosophical ethics does — then we start to build a public service that people are more likely to trust.”

Dr Matt Beard

There’s a big difference between teaching people to make good choices, and disabling people’s ability to make a meaningful choice at all. The latter might prevent some of the worst outcomes, but it also stops you from ever getting the best out of your teams, or helping your people be at their best.

Building skills in philosophical ethics could assist public servants in their response to complex issues and boost public trust, according to Beard.

While ethics is often thought of as a set of rules, or the answer to a question, philosophical ethics is the practice of asking the question. It allows people to weigh up their options when making a decision to ensure they make choices that reflect their values.

Beard, who is the new program director of Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s Vincent Fairfax Fellowship, says this practice can be a valuable resource to public service leaders because it encourages decision-making attributes that demonstrate competence to the public. In a time when there is a low level of public trust and confidence in political leaders and the public service, this is crucial.

“We need to pump [the public service] full of people who have the kinds of characteristics and the kind of traits that we tend to trust, and that we tend to recognise as being competent in being able to lead and make complex and difficult decisions,” Beard says.

The Mandarin, Shannon Jenkins, 24 June 2021. Read the full article here

Photo by Matt Ridley on Unsplash

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.