Integrity management in public organizations: content & design

Alain Hoekstra

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal

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Integrity is an indispensable and highly prized quality for public organizations. To uphold integrity, public organizations are encouraged to implement specific integrity measures. But despite these measures integrity violations still occur within the public sector, sometimes even on a daily basis. Therefore, it is important to expand our knowledge and understanding of public integrity management. Various themes are relevant in this regard, starting with attention for the origins and developments of national integrity policy processes, the institutionalization and management of integrity of public organizations in practice, and the evaluation of integrity systems and programs based on insights and criteria derived from the literature. These themes lead to the following sub-questions: What characterizes the origins and developments of Dutch public integrity policies, how do Dutch public organizations institutionalize and manage integrity in practice, which criteria can be derived from the literature to judge the quality of integrity systems/programs, and what are overall recommendations in this regard?

To answer the first sub-question an analysis is conducted of Dutch national integrity policies and how these have changed over time. This provides an understanding of the parameters for managing integrity in individual public organizations. Based on this analysis it can be concluded that national integrity policies havedeveloped in several phases over time. The first two phases concern the rules-based formalization and regulation of integrity policies, followed by a more values-based third phase. The fourth phase indicates an emerging attention for political integrity, whistleblowing, and for the organizational aspects of integrity management. At the same time, it is important to relativize the influence of these (changing) national integrity policies as these only entail minimum requirements: Dutch public organizations remain -to a large extent- responsible for making their own decisions regarding the content and design of their integrity management.

To answer the second sub-question the research provides insights into how public organizations actually give substance to these policies and how they institutionalize and manage integrity in reality. It turns out that public organizations differ in the way they institutionalize and manage integrity. Six different types of institutionalization approaches were found and described: central and decentral organized integrity office(r)s; reactive and passive integrity approaches; and internal and external organized integrity networks. It also turns out to be quite a challenge for individual organizations to develop, implement, and maintain adequate integrity policies on their own and that it is beneficial for organizations to join external integrity networks, or to be more precise ‘integrity partnerships’. Four types of integrity partnerships were found and described: the Workshop (sharing integrity instruments), the Pool (sharing integrity capacity), the Forum (sharing integrity knowledge) and the Megaphone (sharing integrity influence). In summary it can be concluded that there is no one best way of organizing integrity and that organizational size, commitment, and needs are of influence on how integrity is actually institutionalized and managed in public organizations.

In line with the third sub-question, it seems that there is a growing agreement among scholars
that an integrated integrity management approach in which various integrity measures and activities are combined and connected is to be preferred. The interlocked cogs and wheels on the cover of this book represent such an approach that is based on a set of well-organized and interconnected integrity measures and activities that fit together. As little knowledge is available about what such an approach should entail two integrity frameworks have been developed. The first framework consists of seven theory-based criteria that constitute a complete and effective integrity management system. The seven elements of the framework are: attention to and clarity about integrity, ethical leadership, a balanced rule- and value-based integrity strategy, integrity policies, organizational arrangements, and critical reflection on what matters and works. This framework is applied to evaluate and compare the completeness of the integrity systems in three European cities.

The second framework consists of four normative criteria, being: intentional wholeness, organizational wholeness, societal wholeness, and processual wholeness. This framework provides scholars and practitioners with a new lens for designing and evaluating integrity programs. This new lens accentuates, firstly, that without intentional wholeness, the integrity program lacks authenticity (it is then merely a façade to satisfy the opinions of others). Secondly, without organizational wholeness, the integrity program lacks internal coherence and specificity (it is then too generic to fit the organization’s needs). Thirdly, without societal wholeness, the integrity program lacks contextual embeddedness (it is then too isolated to be acceptable to relevant others). Finally, without processual wholeness, the integrity program lacks adaptive abilities (it is then too static to respond to changes).

In line with the ambition to also make a contribution to the policy practice, several recommendations are made for the improvement of integrity management in the public sector. These recommendations certainly pertain to the Dutch context. But since many countries, surely in the western world, face similar challenges in the field of public integrity they most likely can benefit from these recommendations as well.

The (in total ten) recommendations are partly directed to the national government and partly to individual government organizations. The recommendations to the national level pertain to: the importance of adequate national integrity legislation and periodic integrity monitoring; the need for the clarification of the integrity concept and for developing a more coherent national integrity strategy; and for better integrity support structures, especially for smaller public organizations. On the organizational level the recommendations pertain to: the importance of mapping the organization’s integrity risks and dilemmas; the benefits of formalized integrity plans and the appointment of designated integrity officers; the significance of critically analyzing integrity violations and of the periodic evaluation of the organization’s integrity system or program.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Kaptein, Muel, Supervisor
  • Huberts, Leo C.E., Supervisor
Award date9 Nov 2022
Place of PublicationRotterdam
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2022


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