Posted: October 17th, 2013







In the third part of the book “The Responsible Leader”, chapters nine and ten Terry Cooper talks about a design approach in public administration ethics. He addresses its application in general terms as well as its application to specific situations. Finally, in the tenth and final chapter he makes a conclusion about a responsible and a model of responsible administration. In this part, he addresses the relevance of the design approach to an administrative role as well as its application to ethical issues and real cases. He sites that the design approach suggests there  are no unique, correct solutions that present it to solve a problem. Rather, the solution should be designed for the problem since there is no one problem with a specific solution (Cooper, 2012). There can be several responses to a problem, which can be designed.

Four steps of the design approach are explained, and their purposes in helping to solve ethical problems. The four steps are-

  • Assuming uncertainty, and acknowledging ambiguity of the problem to avoid narrowing the scope of designing a solution
  • Defining the problem, which should be broadly defined to allow addressing of all possible factors important in the problem
  • Solving ethical issued needs to be done within a certain limit of time; thus, leaders should work immediately but also diligently
  • Ethical issues for public administration happen in an organizational setting, which may encourage or hinder ethical behavior.

Cooper provides examples of concrete ethical cases and use of the design approach in helping to solve the issues. For instance, he sites the example of Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were mistreated, especially during interrogations. In this case, prisoners were made to strip and scared with fierce dogs. This was not right and should not have happened. Using the design approach one can start by asking where the problem is without making any conclusions. The design approach can begin with analyzing alternatives, and consequences of this action. For a comprehensive approach, one can go ahead to investigating what action was unethical, what led to the action or why it is happening. One might consider several other areas to enable better solutions of find out the reason behind the issue such as the organization of the prison. In the application part, he cites yet another example of the Favorite contractor where two workers find that the ethical issues might have implication on cultural standards. However, he provided practical example of how to deal with this too. The steps taken in a specific ethical problem solving such as this would be as follows

  • A systematic definition of the ethical problem being dealt with, which in this case was racial bias and unfair treatment
  • Identifying the best cause of action to take through using the design approach described in previous chapters of the book
  • After having the best cause of action, a consideration of other factors in the organization should follow to check what might hinder or support the action
  • Finally, an analysis of the strategies one can use to gain organizational support for implementing the action.

In the tenth chapter, a conclusion about responsible administration is provided. It means that applying the design approach does not only entail focusing on analyzing the ethical problems, as well as making of decisions, but also the situation of the ethical issue. He further cites that a solution needs to be designed to enhance resisting such unethical conducts. It should also enhance optimization of support for addressing such issues (Cooper, 2012). In many cases, such issues of ethical conduct are addressed for short-term purposes instead of long-term solution.



Cooper, T.L. (2012). The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role. Ney York, N.Y: John Wiley & Sons


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