What is good and what is right : an investigation of the outcomes of a comprehensive ethics program in municipal government

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


To build public trust in government through ethical management of citizen resources, leaders of agencies should be intentional in their adoption of a Comprehensive Ethics Program (CEP) and in measuring the impact the program has on the ethical climate, observations of misconduct and reporting of misconduct. The purpose of this study was to investigate the outcomes of a CEP within a municipal government, five years after implementation. This was a mixed methods study where an electronic survey first measured perceptions of ethical climate followed by interviews with ethics administrators and anonymous employees. After five years, the municipal employees rated their environment as somewhat ethical through two measures; an overall ethics score (an average of 35 items from an ethical climate assessment), and a single item rating of the ethical climate by employees. Both measures can be used as a benchmark of organizational ethics health. Observations of misconduct were low in comparison to national statistics and reporting of misconduct was low in comparison to national statistics. Binary logistic regression was conducted on the overall ethics score and observations of misconduct and was statistically significant in distinguishing between employees who observe misconduct from those who do not. One ethics factor, ethical leadership, was also statistically significant in distinguishing between employees who observe misconduct and those who do not. Ethics factors that were not reliable predictors of observations of misconduct included the code of ethics, ethics resources, independent ethics commission, ethical decision-making, and informal ethical norms. Employees also rated the most effective components of the ethics program. Role modeling by peers, role modeling by supervisors, talking about ethics on the job, annual ethics training, the code of ethics, and the ethics handbook were rated as the most effective components. Six interviews with employees deepened the understanding of the quantitative data. Key themes of leadership and concerns about reporting and retaliation emerged through the interviews. CEP outcomes identified in the interviews included enhanced awareness and talking about ethics, seeking advice for ethical dilemmas, cross-departmental conversations, ethics code revisions, ethics resources for employees, and learning from training examples and interactive discussions.




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