Good Work Toolkit for Civil Servants
Martin is a 35 year old civil servant in the office of Migration and Asylum at the Ministry of Safety and Justice in The Netherlands. After he finished his masters in ‘Policy and Management in Multicultural Society,’ Martin specialized in migration issues because he wanted to help people seeking safety and shelter in a new environment. Human dignity and human rights are very important values for Martin.
A few years ago Martin collaborated on a vision and mission statement for the Ministry. He believes he contributed to a just immigration and naturalization policy. This work gave Martin personal and professional satisfaction. Further, managers and other policy makers see Martin as loyal and competent.
But times have changed. Martin finds that the political tone in government has hardened. Politicians and fellow civil servants frequently speak of immigrants in terms of ‘problems’ or ‘costs.’ The Secretary of State wants to rewrite the vision and mission statement and has asked Martin to be involved in the process. The new statement must focus on the rapid return of immigrants, stricter eligibility requirements for immigration, and cost reduction. On the one hand, Martin is flattered that he has been approached to rewrite the statement. On the other hand, he has serious professional and moral doubts about the new policies he has to express in the statement. What should Martin do?
For years, civil servants have faced growing challenges in their work. Professional expertise is increasingly undervalued, and their work seems to be obstructed by a tangle of rules and unwieldy structures. These developments adversely impact the intrinsic motivations of these workers. The Dutch Professional Honor Foundation promotes professionalism across different fields. In cooperation with the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Professional Honor Foundation has organized a ‘Good Work Pilot’ for civil servants working at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. This initiative is part of a larger national project called ‘Better Work in Public Administration’ (Beter Werken in het Openbaar Bestuur), which strives to improve the work done within the public sector. Inspired by the Good Work Toolkit, the Professional Honor Foundation developed a toolkit specifically aimed at civil servants and their complex professional environment, which is characterized by political, societal and organizational demands and by conflicting professional standards. The Good Work Toolkit for Civil Servants provides workers the opportunity to revisit what professionalism means to them and to explore the tensions happening within the profession. The Toolkit poses the following question: How can inherent tensions within the profession of government/public policy be dealt with in such a way that makes Good Work possible? The concrete case of Martin’s professional dilemma above, taken from the Toolkit, shows that Good Work in public policy is not easy or clear-cut. The question about what is ‘Good’ in the Civil Service profession is open to discussion.
The Good Work Toolkit for Civil Servants consists of narratives, assignments and reflection questions that deal with and analyze the practical reality of civil servants. All materials are based on real-life experiences. With the help of this toolkit, professionals are encouraged to discuss their own work and to learn from each other.
The toolkit for Dutch civil servants is structured into four sessions. The introductory session discusses the concept of ‘Good Work’ and asks ‘what is good?’ with regard to civil service. After the introductory session, three substantive meetings follow, each addressing one of the three E’s. For Excellence – which we have translated into the Dutch word for ‘craftsmanship’ – participants learn that its interpretation depends upon personal, institutional and societal standards. With Ethics, the participants take a closer look at the concept of ‘responsibility’ and how it pertains to their role as civil servants, asking the question, “what are consequences of my work for others?” The last session revolves around Engagement as an essential part of Good Work. Civil servants are invited to discuss the personal meaningfulness and importance of their work.
Sample cases, like Martin’s dilemma, facilitate the discussion of important issues, ideas and conflicting values within the profession of civil servants. This is done in a non-threatening and open environment. During the sessions, participants reflect on the experiences of others, enabling them to reflect on their own experiences, and discuss the overall profession with each other. In this way, useful strategies are developed to make Good Work possible, despite the hierarchical structure of the organization in which civil servants inevitably find themselves.
The Good Work Toolkit for Civil Servants is not a ‘course’ or ‘training’ and does not intend to form any professional code of conduct or list of competencies. The goal of the sessions is, through dialogue, to strengthen civil servants’ abilities to analyze different types of problems from their daily professional practice. The toolkit encourages participants to think for themselves and to exchange experiences in a group, so that they may discover and make explicit the core values and responsibilities of the civil servants’ profession. In this way, the toolkit is a constructive contribution to the quality of civil service and professional pride.