The work of two Singapore-based researchers on the effects of ethical culture and ethical leadership on innovation as reported in the public sector has been published in the September 2020 Issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration.

Examining the relationship between public sector ethics and public sector innovation is important because society has long expected employees and managers in public organisations to behave ethically, but increasingly also expects innovative and entrepreneurial behaviour. However, researchers have previously commented that these two behavioural expectations and the values they require may not necessarily align, and even compete in many cases.

Given that much of the evidence is rather anecdotal, and arguably outdated, Associate Professors Dr Zeger Van der Wal and Dr Mehmet Akif Demircioglu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at The National University of Singapore, have empirically examined how ethical culture and ethical leadership are associated with realised innovation using 84,222 responses from the Australian Public Service Commission’s 2017 APS agency survey. This research has produced robust findings across agency, work location, job level, tenure, education, and gender and across different samples.


The researchers used a definition of ethical leadership described in 2005 by Brown, Treviño and Harrison as:

‘The demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through the personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and promotion of such conduct among followers through two-way communication, reinforcement, and decision-making processes’.

The researchers believed that the Australian public sector would provide a suitable environment for studying the effects of leadership and culture on public sector innovation for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the Australian government has been among the most highly ranked globally in terms of innovation and effectiveness for years (see the 2017 work of the OECD and Pollitt & Bouckaert). Secondly, it was also an early adaptor of New Public Management, implementing private sector practices and ideas from the 1980s onwards. And thirdly, the country’s public sector has consistently ranked highly in the Corruption Perception Index run by Transparency International.

Continue reading the full article and access the research paper via the IPAA National website.