Open Access

The Ambiguous Meaning of the Ethical Issue in a Context of NPM Reforms: Insights from the OECD, Canada and France

   | Dec 30, 2016
NISPAcee Journal of Public Administration and Policy's Cover Image
NISPAcee Journal of Public Administration and Policy
Openness, Transparency and Ethics in Public Administration: Do they Support Each Other?


An important interest in public-administration ethics has been expressed in OECD member states since the 1990s in reaction to the development of New Public Management (NPM) reforms. However, the meanings attached to the ethical issue in a context of managerial modernization remain ambiguous depending on the country and / or time period studied. Therefore, this article aims at underlining the main characteristics of administrative ethics thanks to the creation of a theoretical concept which summarizes them. The latter can also serve as an analytical grid to engage in further research and especially comparisons between varying national cases.

For that purpose, the analysis is divided in two parts and draws insights from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada and France, through a review of major official reports and a series of interviews with public officials and experts in charge of these questions. First of all, it concentrates on the OECD’s historical activities on public-sector ethics in order to devise a theoretical concept of administrative ethics. The utility and relevance of this concept is then tested while being implemented to compare the Canadian and French governments’ overall interest in ethics in their process of public-management reform.

The article distinguishes two key dimensions of public-administration ethics, namely the managerial and normative ones, which are strongly intertwined. On the one hand, the managerial dimension focuses on the management of civil servants’ daily behaviors and combines the compliance-based and integrity-based approaches to govern conducts in public administration. On the other hand, the normative dimension refers to the normative framework incorporating the core principles and values which define civil servants’ professional identities and guide their specific missions and goals within the democratic system.

The historical comparison of major trends in terms of administrative ethics in Canada and France shows, finally, that, despite national characteristics, the two countries have tended progressively to deal with the ethical issue in a more comprehensive way. They are trying to take into account, for example, problems due to conflicts of public values and combine compliance-based and integrity-based instruments of ethics management. These evolutions shed light more generally on the movement of hybridization, incorporating elements from traditional public administration and New Public Management, which seems to develop in both states.

Publication timeframe:
2 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Social Sciences, Political Science, Local Government and Administration