Appropriate decision-making frameworks

In this section:

Public trust and confidence begins with all sectors having robust governance arrangements, and confidence that decisions are being made transparently, responsively and with the public interest in mind. Public officers should also be able to accurately and effectively explain how a decision was reached if requested by a senior leader or an oversight authority, like the Commission.

Making difficult decisions that impact the workforce and the community are core to the sectors’ work. These decisions overwhelming rely on good judgement and respect for the enduring principles of public service in order to be well received. A failure to apply the basics of accountability and transparency can be costly.

Making ‘good’ decisions

Good decisions are those that: respect the boundaries of the accountability and oversight framework; are the outcome of a defined process; and are material and timely to the public interest being served. 

At an individual level, public officers must have the skills to make good decisions based on the rule of law and good moral judgements. For employees in the public sector, completion of Accountable and ethical decision making (AEDM) training is a requirement. In other authorities, ethics training is becoming a more commonly used tool to promote integrity and good decision making.

The AEDM curriculum provides public officers with simple decision-making frameworks to overcome ethical dilemmas. ‘The first steps’ is the program’s principal decision-making framework and encompasses four simple questions:

  1. Am I doing the right thing?
  2. How would others judge my actions?
  3. How could my actions impact on others?
  4. Should I discuss this with someone else?

At an organisational level, authorities require strong governance arrangements and clear accountability around decision making. Delegations are an important part of the decision-making framework. Eighty-one per cent of public sector employees agree they have the delegated authority and level of responsibility to do their job effectively. Appropriate, consistent and transparent corporate executive processes are also fundamental to good decision making.

Did you know?

  • 94 235 public sector employees have participated in AEDM training over the past five years
  • during the reporting period, the Commissioner personally delivered AEDM content to five new CEOs, as well as 17 ministerial offices and Chiefs of Staff

 Further information on accountable and ethical decision making can be found on our website

Decision making and integrity

The best defence against poor decision making is engaged employees who ground their work in the core principles of public service—and are motivated by them. These employees are more likely to naturally act ethically and be cognisant of applicable rules and procedures (Public Administration, 2015).

Leaders and managers should recognise and address integrity risks through appropriate measures at an organisational level, and encourage a culture that reinforces ethical conduct and integrity. Dysfunctional workplace culture is only reinforced and affirmed through poor decision making, for example a culture of ‘secrecy’ that is only perpetuated and worsened through covert processes and limited information (Moon and Adams, 2015).

Maintaining open channels of communication with oversight bodies and processes is also vital in preserving visible chains of accountability that promote confidence in decisions that are made. 

Decision making and public trust

Public trust and confidence is strengthened by decision making that is seen to be inclusive and consultative (OECD, 2017). This is achieved through: transparent decision making; provision of timely information to the Parliament, community and oversight bodies; and processes that afford procedural fairness in appropriate circumstances. There is however a balance that must be struck between transparent and efficient, and productive processes. More emphasis on one at the expense of the other does not serve the public interest, or contribute to public trust (Moon and Adams, 2015). 

Serving the interests of an increasingly informed public and the growing value of evidence-based decision making should be appreciated across the sectors. Public authorities must work towards evidence-based decisions that demonstrate they are doing more of what works and less of what does not (Kavanagh and Levenson, 2016).

Decision making and change

In times of change, decision making can become overly cautious or risk-averse, but decisions relating to service delivery still need to be made in a timely and accountable way.

Change can also lead to poor decision making where corners are cut, gaps and overlaps in accountability structures emerge, and lines of direct accountability are blurred. For public sector employees, there are the added complexities that flow from serving multiple Ministers. Across the sectors, it is important to remain focussed and ensure that decisions do not suffer from a lack of established practice and consideration.

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Page last updated 19 October 2017