NOOSA - According to a recent study by the PNG National Research Institute (NRI), public servants trained in ethics and values-based leadership are sceptical that these courses can improve workplace behaviour.
Each year since 2015, with the aim of improving ethics on the job, selected groups of PNG public servants have been attending ethics and leadership courses at the Pacific Institute of Leadership and Governance.
The Australian government has poured a lot of money into this program in a triumph of hope over expectation.
The hope being that, in a context of well entrenched political corruption, public servants can somehow have the tendency out of them, and maybe even lead the way in extinguishing the C-word on a wider scale.
That was always going to be a hard ask in Papua New Guinea, where in official circles corruption is a word that dare not speak its name (even the NRI report on the study refers obliquely to “endemic incivility”).
So successfully tackling “the problem of ethics and lack of values-based cultures” in the public service looked as forlorn as fighting a bushfire with a swizzle stick.
However, back in 2015, the Australians, and especially then foreign minister Julie Bishop, were keen to make ethics-based training something of a spearhead in the aid program, and the Institute of Leadership and Governance was established to do just that.
Now, a study authored by personnel from another Institute, the NRI - Dr Francis Odhuno, Associate Professor Eugene Ezebilo and Jeremy Goro - seem to have dashed Ms Bishop’s hopes.
The trio surveyed an unknown number of public servants who had undertaken ethics and leadership training and compared them to a group of their peers who had not been so fortunate.
The task was to compare in both groups their positions on “six ethical values”: honesty, integrity, accountability, respect, wisdom and responsibility in the workplace.
(I wouldn’t agree that these are all ethical values rather than virtues or behaviours but I’m not up for a semantic argument against three academics.)
And so it was that Messrs Odhuno, Ezebilo and Goro found no significant relationship between taking the ethics and leadership course and the demonstration of any of the six ‘values’ in the workplace.
“Some PNG public servants can, however, demonstrate integrity, respect, and responsibility if they believe that they learnt something new, not necessarily from the ethics and values-based leadership courses, during their time at the Pacific Institute of Leadership and Governance,” the authors wrote, almost by way of compensation.
Having said that they concluded that “taking ethics and leadership courses does, therefore, not seem to be a determining factor in PNG public servants’ demonstration of ethical leadership traits.
“Instead, some public servants are able to consistently demonstrate integrity and respect without attending ethics and leadership courses.”
Which is not a surprise, because most of us are not trained in moral virtues to possess them – we can learn them at the knee, emulate them in those we respect, understand them from the sporting field or learn them from stories and, indeed, books of rules.
The three researchers conclude that training alone is probably not sufficient to inculcate ethical behaviour in individuals, still less to building values-based cultures in workplaces.
“And this,” they say, bringing things back to practicalities with a thud, “is likely to derail implementing the Ethics and Values-based Executive Leadership and Management Capability Framework championed by the Department of Personnel Management.”
I think I can feel a committee coming on.