Lina Svedin, Ph.D., a professor in the U’s political science department and acting director of the Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy programs, recently met with six Georgian top-level civil servants to discuss American experiences and research on how to design a good civil service. The officials visited Utah as part of the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program, hosted locally by the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. Svedin talked about the importance of accountability, particularly in crises, how best to support ethical management and the importance of leading by example. The visiting officials were interested in whistleblower policies and experiences, as well as what leadership style is more appropriate and effective: one based on authority or one based on collaboration. Svedin shared the American Society for Public Administration’s Code of Ethics (2013) as a basis for training civil servants to act ethically when the law does not tell them what to do. The six visiting administrators, all women, left campus with an offer of future consulting and support as well as several gifted books from the MPA program’s reference library.
Svedin elaborated on the experience in a Q&A with @TheU:
Q: For those reading this who may be unfamiliar with the country of Georgia, what is the current political climate there? What sort of change were the administrators you met with hoping can occur in the future?
A: As a former Soviet republic and fairly young democracy, Georgia is a country in transition. A new government was elected a few months back and Russia continues to cast a long shadow over that part of the world. I think like many former Soviet states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for example – Georgia has chosen to throw out the old and go with a young generation of public servants to really bring about change in its existing institutions. This has advantages – bright and energetic young minds, a willingness to try new things, and a more international orientation. It also poses challenges – steep learning curves and balancing international norms and administrative best practices while still respecting local cultures.
Q: There were many places these officials could have gone to advice, but were directed to the U because of strong faculty and programs, particularly in the arenas of ethics and human resources. Historically, have leaders from other countries also sought the U’s expertise on complex political issues related to civil service? As acting director of the MPA and MPP program, is this something you are proud of?
A: At the University of Utah we particularly focus on ethics, public law and non-profit management. We are steeped in a tradition of professional development and understanding public administration and public policy as they develop across time – most things have been tried before, so it is important to remember your history. We have developed long-standing teaching relationships with administrators in the United Arab Emirates and Hainan Province in China, but we also frequently are asked to do particular lectures or workshops on administration and management issues for elected or career civil servants from countries like Georgia, Japan and Panama. We also send our students abroad on community engaged learning experiences in Costa Rica and Cuba. We love these international connections and feel they enrich our programs and our research every bit as much as we contribute to theirs.
Q: This was a new professional experience for you personally. What was your main takeaway from the conversation you had with the officials that can be applied for anyone employed in civil service positions?
A: The importance of intent; of a code of ethics of public servants that go beyond what the law says – that guides officials when the law is not clear on what is the right thing to do. The importance of trust – how you build it by consistency of speech and action, and by meeting people you will need to collaborate with face-to-face before a crisis hits. We also talked about what motivates people in public service – how you get people to buy in, to move in the same direction, and how to incentivize individuals and groups. I believe leading by example is important, and that accountability and transparency can be very powerful tools. I shared my experience and some of the research findings that we teach in our programs, and our Georgian visitors I think asked very good and pointed questions. I was very excited to see so many young, smart and well-educated women in top administrative positions in this country. How can you not share all your best tips with that kind of group?