The Integrity Talks

Integrity management in public organizations by Alain Hoekstra

The Integrity Talks

Integrity is an indispensable quality for public organizations. To uphold integrity, public organizations are encouraged to implement specific integrity policies. Yet, integrity violations still occur within the public sector despite these measures, sometimes even daily. Therefore, it is important to expand the knowledge and understanding of public integrity management.

Various themes are relevant when it comes to integrity, including the:

  • Origins and developments of national integrity policy processes;
  • Institutionalization and management of integrity of public organizations in practice;
  • Evaluation of integrity systems;
  • Assessment of programs based on insights and criteria derived from the literature.

These themes lead to the following sub-questions:

  • What characterizes the origins and developments of Dutch public integrity policies?
  • How do Dutch public organizations institutionalize and manage integrity in practice?
  • Which criteria can be derived from the literature to judge the quality of integrity systems/programs?
  • What are overall recommendations in this regard?

Several phases

To answer the first sub-question, Alain Hoekstra analyzed the Dutch national integrity policies and how these have changed over time. Those provide an understanding of the parameters for managing integrity in individual public organizations. Hoekstra concluded that national integrity policies have developed in several phases over time.

The first two phases concern the rules-based formalization and regulation of integrity policies, followed by a more values-based third phase. The fourth phase indicates an emerging focus on political integrity, whistleblowing, and for the organizational aspects of integrity management.

Though the (changing) national integrity policies provide some understanding, it is important to relativize a bit, as those only entail some minimum requirements. To a large extent, Dutch public organizations remain responsible for the decisions regarding the content and design of their integrity management.

Six different types of institutionalization approaches

To answer the second sub-question, the research done by Alain Hoekstra provides insights into how public organizations actually give substance to these policies and how they institutionalize and manage integrity in reality. It turns out that public organizations differ in the way they institutionalize and manage integrity.

Six different types of institutionalization approaches were found and described, namely:

  • Central and decentral organized integrity office(r)s;
  • Reactive and passive integrity approaches;
  • Internal and external organized integrity networks.

It also turns out to be quite a challenge for individual organizations to develop, implement, and maintain adequate integrity policies without any external support. It is beneficial for organizations to join integrity networks, thus create ‘integrity partnerships’. Four types of integrity partnerships were found and described, namely:

  • Workshops (sharing integrity instruments);
  • Pools (sharing integrity capacity);
  • Forums (sharing integrity knowledge);
  • Megaphone (sharing integrity influence).

In short, there is not one best practice for organizing integrity. The organizational size, commitment, and needs are impacting how integrity is actually institutionalized and managed in public organizations.

Combine and connect measures and activities

In line with the third sub-question, there is a growing agreement among scholars. They conclude that an integrated integrity management approach which combines and connects various measures and activities is preferred. As little knowledge is available on what such an approach should look like, two integrity frameworks have been developed.

The first framework consists of seven theory-based criteria that constitute a complete and effective integrity management system. The seven elements of the framework are:

  • Attention to and clarity on integrity;
  • Ethical leadership;
  • Balanced rule- and value-based integrity strategies;
  • Integrity policies;
  • Organizational arrangements;
  • Critical reflections on what matters and what works.

This framework is applied to evaluate and compare the completeness of the integrity systems in three European cities. The second framework consists of four normative criteria, being:

  • Intentional wholeness;
  • Organizational wholeness
  • Societal wholeness;
  • Processual wholeness.

This framework provides scholars and practitioners with a new lens for designing and evaluating integrity programs. This new lens accentuates that without intentional wholeness, the integrity program lacks authenticity (it is merely a facade to satisfy the opinions of others). Secondly, without organizational wholeness, the integrity program lacks internal coherence and specificity (it is too generic to fit the organization’s needs). Thirdly, without societal wholeness, the integrity program lacks contextual embeddedness (it is too isolated to be acceptable to relevant others). Finally, without processual wholeness, the integrity program lacks adaptive abilities (it is too static to respond to changes).

Recommendations for organizations

To make a contribution to the policy practice, several recommendations for Dutch organizations are made for the improvement of integrity management in the public sector. However, most likely, other countries can benefit from these recommendations as well, due to similar trends and developments.

Recommendations on a national level include the importance of adequate national integrity legislation and periodic integrity monitoring. Thus, the need for the clarification of the integrity concept and for developing a more coherent national integrity strategy – for better integrity support structures, especially for smaller public organizations.

Recommendations on the organizational level include the importance of mapping the organization’s integrity risks and dilemmas, the benefits of formalized integrity plans and the appointment of designated integrity officers. Likewise, the significance of critically analyzing integrity violations and of the periodic evaluation of the organization’s integrity system or program.

Read more via the research report.