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UTS:CLG Graduate Paper Series: Investigating Ethical Paradigms and Values: Potential Influences on Decision-Making by Elected Representatives

8 May 2017

Ethical decision making

Investigating Ethical Paradigms and Values: Potential Influences on Decision-Making by Elected Representatives

Nicole CampbellPart seven of the eight-part UTS:CLG Graduate Paper Series is Nicole Campbell's dissertation:

In order to identify potential governance and leadership opportunities to support elected local government representatives (councillors) in their roles as democratically elected leaders, Nicole Campbell generated original empirical data that were analysed to elucidate the ethical decision-making processes adopted by councillors in NSW. The research questions for the study were:

  1. Does decision-making by councillors reflect a particular ethical paradigm?
  2. If so, is this ethical paradigm consistently applied in decision-making?
  3. To what extent (if any) might gender or length of tenure influence ethical decision-making by elected representatives?
  4. What are the influences on ethical decision-making associated with the prevailing administrative paradigm; personal values; and organisational culture?
  5. What potential opportunities to strengthen governance frameworks might be identified through this investigation?

A detailed literature review was augmented by a voluntary and anonymous survey distributed to all current (and retired) NSW local government councillors. A total of 111 surveys were completed and returned, representing approximately 10% of NSW local government councillors. The survey data revealed that the dominant ethical framework selected by respondents reflected the ‘Golden Rule’: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. This reflects a non-consequentialist ethical approach. However, when the same respondents were provided with five fictional decision-making scenarios, adherence to the Golden Rule was often displaced in favour of a deontological (rules-based, duty to act) ethical paradigm. Respondents also expressed a high level of interest in developing a greater understanding of ethical decision-making processes.

There was no observed influence of gender in terms of the ethical decision-making scenarios. However, there was a strong gendered response (from both men and women) in relation to organisational culture and in particular to challenging behaviours that might occur in the council chamber. This suggests that there are challenges for the local government sector to address. The study identified a need for greater involvement of councillors in the development of each council’s ‘Values Statement’, and suggested that the move towards a shared appreciation of organisational values may assist in augmenting the development of shared community values as a key driver for the delivery of the Community Strategic Plan.

On the basis of the findings, Nicole made the following key recommendations:

  • Existing councillor induction programs would benefit from incorporating opportunities to build organisational readiness in terms of the paradigm shift to local governance, which implies an outward focus for local government, participative and collaborative decision-making, and the co-creation of services.
  • Induction programs could also incorporate a focus on a values-led organisational culture, and the promotion of a values-led governance model. Such a model would consider the capacity for ethical decision making to be a core element of effective local democracy.
  • The values of ‘personal integrity’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’, promoted and shared amongst elected representatives and council staff, would reflect the value of governance processes that include both compliance mechanisms and opportunities to support the moral growth of the individual.
  • The Community Strategic Plan could be used to educate and encourage councillors to move towards greater shared decision-making opportunities with their local communities.
  • Elected representatives should be provided with the opportunity to undertake ongoing professional development and training over the life of their local government careers. Developing stronger skills in self-awareness, leadership, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking and communication skills could assist them to ‘share the decision-making space’ with their broader communities, to engender greater public trust in the capacity and legitimate role of councillors, and to strengthen the credibility of the council as a whole.

Dissertation summary by Ronald Woods, UTS:CLG Teaching and Research.

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