Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Values, Their Nature, Stability and Change. the Case of Denmark

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Values, Their Nature, Stability and Change. the Case of Denmark

Article excerpt


The notion of public values has been increasingly important in public sector reform and public management in Denmark.1 The reasons vary. Political-administrative scandals promoted an interest in codes of ethics for civil servants and a revival of judicial values since the beginning of 1990ies. New management techniques such as valuebased management have caused a focus on values, and years of Neo-liberalism and New Public Management oriented reforms have created a need in many Western countries for considering values other than efficiency and more generally a need for re-thinking the normative basis of the public sector (Rhodes, 1987; Smith, 1991; Stewart & Walsh, 1992; Olsen, 1993; Butler, 1994; Greenaway, 1995; Frederickson, 1997; Lundquist, 2001). This is important since high levels of corruption seem to be associated with political instability, poverty and social and economic inequalities (Rothstein, 2003).

However, we know little about values actually held in the public sector. This goes for Denmark and probably for other European countries as well. For that reason, The Danish Power and Democracy Study financed by the Danish parliament decided to carry out a number of empirical projects in Denmark with the purpose of identifying public sector values. This paper not only presents the landscape of public values but also discusses their nature, how public values can be classified in different ethoses, and how these can be related. Finally, a number of hypotheses on value dynamics are discussed.


The concept of value is understood in a variety of ways. In ordinary language something may have a value for somebody, e.g. an argument has value if it is a good argument. In the same way modern administrative reformists usually wish more value for money. This usage is for example found in the title of a textbook: Creating Public Value (Moore, 1995). Moore's book is not on which values may be labelled public but on how to create more value in the public sector.

This is not our usage. Broadly speaking, a value associates to a principle that must be followed or a standard that must be met by public organisations while they regulate or produce service. Unfortunately most writers do not define value clearly. Some writers (e.g. Posner & Schmidt, 1994; Keating, 1995; Goodsell, 1989; Van Wart, 1998) define value mainly by listing concrete examples. In part of the literature we may get an understanding from the implicit synonyms used for value. Lawton & Rose (1994) talk about ideas, Richard & Smith (1998) about an ethos, The Nolan Committee (1995) and Maguire (1998) about standards and principles and Beck Jørgensen (1996) and Beck Jørgensen (1998) about the normative basis. Sometimes values are understood as identical with interests (Van Dyke, 1962; Gundelach, 2002) or as identical with organisational principles (Richards & Smith, 1998; Egeberg, 1994), which adds some confusion to the discussion.

Van Deth & Scarbrough (1995) takes us in the right direction when defining value as expressing "the desirable". But we have to turn to the American antropologist Clyde Kluckhohn in order to find an elaborate definition:

"A value is a conception, explicit or implicit, distinctive of an individual or characteristic of a group, of the desirable which influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action." (Kluckhohn, 1962:395)

The definition has four important elements. First, values are a conception, i.e. a mental construction, not an artifact. Moreover, as a conception there is a cognitive element to it, a value is not just a spontaneous unreflective feeling.

Second, values are not necessarily explicit. Values bear on deeper layers of human experience and identity and it is perfectly possible to act in accordance with values without being fully conscious about these values. …

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