Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Tracing Public Values Change: A Historical Study of Civil Service Job Advertisements

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Tracing Public Values Change: A Historical Study of Civil Service Job Advertisements

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Long term changes in public values are not easily detected. One important reason is the limited availability of reliable empirical data. Job advertisements allow us to go back in history for some decades and job ads may present us with the values that are supposed to guide civil servant behavior. This paper analyses a sample of job ads from 1966 to 2008 in Denmark and the Netherlands. The analysis reveals that Denmark and the Netherlands follow the same pattern: a) merit (expertise/professionalism) is and continues to be the most important selection criteria, but the meaning of merit explodes in several directions; b) job ads develop into platforms for organizational branding with an emphasis on HR-related values although national logos enter the scene (the Danish royal crown, the Dutch national emblem); c) New Public Management values do not crowd out other values, rather value intensity increases.

Keywords: public value; value change; professional values; job advertisements; selection criteria; agencification

1. Introduction

The study of public values has gained increasing prominence in public administration research. While most research has concentrated on identifying the actual values (e.g. Beck Jorgensen and Bozeman 2007; Van der Wal 2008; Vrangbæk 2009, Reynaers, 2014, De Graaf & Paanakker, 2014), little is available on value change and continuity. Although a number of historical studies exist (Kerkhoff et al. 2010), value change has generally been neglected (Beck Jorgensen and Vrangbæk 2011). Studying value changes involves a number of challenges. Besides the complex task of tracing and explaining changes in public values (Beck Jorgensen 2009), the most serious challenge is the lack of data. Apart from normative treatises throughout history on how to behave as a public servant, finding empirical sources is difficult. If we want to go back in time more than just a few years, we must primarily rely on peoples' biased memories and scarce documentary material. Given that values are intangible phenomena and often require context and interpretation to give meaning, the empirical study of value dynamics thus represents a serious challenge.

However, there is a specific source of empirical evidence which has been overlooked thus far in the study of value changes: public sector job advertisements. The basic reason for utilizing this type of data is simply that job advertisements allow us to go back in history in a systematic manner, at least for a few decades. For this research, a number of job ads have been randomly selected in Denmark and the Netherlands in the following years: 1966/68, 1976/78, 1986/88, 1996/98, 2006/08. The choice of these two "most similar cases" is inspired by the aim to trace significant, robust developments by limiting the number of possible intervening factors together with practical considerations (as they are the respective home countries of the researchers).1

Naturally, a key question becomes why we should expect job ads to shed light on public values. Firstly, hiring people is an important decision, especially in highly labor-intensive organizations such as administrative bodies. As Waldner (2012) notes, job ads are not simply projecting an image of the desirable, but used to actually attract and select people for employment in the public sector. Thus, they can be regarded as prime examples of publicly advertising which values are regarded as important when describing the job, job requirements, and the organization in question. Indirectly, job ads possibly also project an image of the public sector or organization in relation to the rest of society. Thus, we expect job advertisements to reflect not only the values and competences actually needed by the organization but also the normative context of the public organization in question. This implies that the object of study is public values, and not the job advertisement as a Human Resource Management phenomenon. …

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