- Every now and then, people are faced with tough choices. Choosing a mobile phone can be a tough choice for someone, but its implications are limited to the individual. Policy matters, like whether to make aadhar card compulsory to avail benefits of certain services, are tough decisions that have implications for the larger population.
- The mobile phone you decide upon is not necessarily better in all aspects than its competitors, but there must be a reasoned explanation of why you chose it over others.
- As civil servants, you will be expected to make widespread impact decisions. You must quickly arrive at a just and fair conclusion backed by knowledge of law and policy. The way to arrive at just and fair decisions is through reasoning and arguments.
- You should be able to analyze the merits and demerits of options available to you and then put forth the best amongst them as your decision.
The case studies in the examination generally require you to act in a particular position. At the same time, there are other stakeholders as well. Every person or institution/body involved in a situation has different objectives and motives which they seek to satisfy. They have their vested interests and preferences. Many times, these interests conflict with each other.
Discussions about ethical issues are often driven by situations that challenge our abilities to determine the right thing to do. We are expected to take a moral decision which may not be easy and straightforward or layout a strategy that minimizes ethical obstacles in future.
Even though each case study is unique, we can use a systematized approach to answer them effectively. The framework for answering discussed below will help you to arrive at ethical and practical solutions and lucidly present them.
Framework for Analysis
- Case studies present a situation where some ethical dilemma is involved. An ethical dilemma involves two possible choices, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable.
- For example, knowing fully-well that if I help someone in a road accident case, I will be subjected to intense questioning by the police, which is going to be a harrowing experience, what should I do? If this question is merely 'asked' (such as a case study in Paper IV), we may be tempted to answer it most ethically; however, our reaction in a real situation may be more selfish.
- Taking the injured person to the hospital can save her life and should be of paramount importance. But realizing that I may be harassed by the police, later on, I can change my mind.
- I may also try to convince myself that someone else might take her to hospital, and try to lessen my own duty. Neither of the choices is unambiguously acceptable and carries some demerits. Recognition of these demerits is significant for a complete, argued solution.
- It is important because you are expected to deal with situations in totality as a civil servant. One will be expected to know what his/her responsibilities are and whether one has adequate power and authority to carry them out?
- Similarly, on witnessing corruption in public service, and honest employee may be compelled to expose the wrongdoing through whistleblowing, but that can jeopardize his career. He may bow down to the pressure, which can be beneficial in his career progression, but that will produce internal dissonance. Corruption is an ill of the society as well as economy. It is recognized as such everywhere. However, it has come to be accepted as a necessity to grease the economy's wheels (according to 2nd ARC). Can such a justification be enough for a civil servant to push the instances of corruption under the carper? Not.
Most of the students recognize these merits and demerits. Then what is the correct way of presenting your answer?
Foremost it is essential to recognize that Case studies primarily check two aspects:
- Your awareness- about the issue, what powers and duties you have and what rules are already there, and,
- How logically you put forth your arguments.
The importance of logic and arguments cannot be underestimated in ethics. Almost everyone who has prepared thoroughly for this exam has some idea about what should be THE RIGHT THING TO DO in a given case study. Still, the marks show high variation. The difference lies in arguments and presentation. Almost everyone will want to help an accident victim (mentioned above). But one cannot simply 'tell' what needs to be done. One must also explain why this particular course action should be chosen and not the other one.
- Further, almost all the situations that a civil servant faces have some precedents. Most of the time, there are rules which guide action. Discretion has to be exercised in only a fraction of cases. Case studies present the problems you will have to argue based on facts, rules, logic, and values. Arguing for your decision has to be in a rational framework. This rational framework requires recognition of not only your rights, duties and responsibilities but also of your authority. An engineer in a Public Works Department is not a Police Officer or a District Magistrate. A common man cannot pass orders on someone. A District Magistrate cannot make a policy.
World Development Report (WDR) 2015 - 'Mind, Society and Behaviour', highlights three important principles of decision making :
- Thinking Automatically - Much of human thinking is automatic and depends on whatever comes to mind most effortlessly
- Thinking socially - People are deeply social and are influenced by social networks and norms
- Thinking with mental models - most people do not invent new concepts; rather they use mental models drawn from their societies and shared histories to interpret their experiences.
- No one model of decision making is sufficient to arrive at a decision. One may need to make quick and automatic decisions if one is driving. But suppose one is a civil servant responsible for making policies. In that case, he/she will have to factor in different aspects - the desirability of the objectives, cost involved - financial as well as social & environmental, side-effects - intended and unintended, and scope for feedback and improvement.
- Also, one must recognize the inherent biases that may creep in arriving at a decision. These can be in form of norms that one assumes as factual and inviolable. For example, while designing an education policy, one might consider that all students exposed to similar learning will have similar learning outcomes - which is rarely the case. So merely focusing on infrastructure and teacher quality will not eliminate low learning standards. It will definitely help in improvement, but learning abilities of students should also be considered and adequate avenues be provided to students to excel in the fields of their aptitude and choice. Therefore, exposure to various situations can help develop more and better mental models. While answering the case study, one should have a civil servant's mental model. What is that mental model?
- A case study is essentially a set of decisions that you have to make. As such, the student is given a certain role - responsibility and the authority to carry it out. And while giving the solution, one must be able to think from various perspectives.
- First, you yourself are a rational, thinking individual - what are your personal beliefs and preferences in a given situation?
Next, you are a senior civil servant (in most cases, or at least aspire to be one and therefore those qualities must be reflected in your answer) whose allegiance lies first with India's constitution and the laws & rules duly framed. One is duty bound to carry out the agenda set forth by the government, but if the orders conflicts with the constitution/laws/rules, the civil servant must not only not carry it out but also prevent it from being carried out within his legal-rational means.
- Next, you are also a leader in the given situation who has a responsibility to do the right thing, achieve the team's targets, and be accountable for your actions. Accountability lies not only to the government (political executive) but also to the judiciary as well as the people. The rigorous examination process is meant to test whether you are suitable to take decisions in a pressure situation and exercise the powers that will be conferred on you judiciously and fairly, with the guarantee of meeting the objectives set.
➤ Case Study - Dealing with a Water Emergency in Bogota, Columbia
- This was handled illustrates how policy approaches can both undermine and nurture cooperative behavior.
- In 1997, part of a tunnel providing water to the city collapsed, triggering a water shortage emergency. The city government's first action was to declare a public emergency and initiate a communication program warning inhabitants of the coming crisis. While this step was intended to promote water conservation, it instead increased both water consumption and hoarding.
- Recognizing the problem, the city government changed its communication strategy, sent around volunteers to educate people about the most effective conservation measures, and began publicizing daily water consumption figures and naming individuals who were cooperating with the effort, as well as those who were not. The mayor appeared in a television ad taking a shower with his wife, explaining how the tap could be turned off while soaping and suggesting taking showers in pairs. These strategies strengthened cooperation, and water use reductions persisted long after the tunnel was repaired.
The purpose of this case study is to open the mind of the student towards different approaches to a problem, what can be the possible challenges, even when the intention is right and to recognize the shortcomings and improve the course of action.
➤ Structure of the Answer
- Case studies can be from any field - administrative, science/medical, sports, corporate, etc. However, a common thread is that there are conflicting interests which you, the decision-maker, are faced with and most of the time you will have to make a choice. In the paper, either there is a list of the possible choices, each one of which has to be evaluated on merits and demerits, or one has to self-formulate the choices first and then evaluate them. Finally, an argued plan of action has to be provided.
- We want to clarify that no one structure of case-studies is perfect at the outset. Different people use their own methods and have fared well. There is no ideal answer or answer format either. Time constraints in ethics paper leave little scope to have a perfect answer. However, with practice and some smartness, one can answer the case studies in a near impeccable manner. There are certain best practices, which can be followed. For example,
- Having a pre-memorized list of common dilemmas, conflicts, values and precedents which you can reproduce in the answer quickly
- Maintaining a logical flow in the response- It helps in arriving at an argued solution in lesser time
- Recognizing the merits and demerits of different ways to handle the dilemmas. Only after one recognizes the demerits can one address them. This is the argumentative aspect of the answer. Here one can bring out the relative preference of principles and values that one uses to handle the situation.
What should be a good structure of the answer? It depends on the format of the case study. Here we are considering a broad type of case study in which you (the writer) have been given a decision maker's role and have to write about various options available and finally have to choose amongst them based on merits and demerits.
➤ General structure of answer in a case study:
- Facts of the case
- Stakeholders and their interests
- Ethical dilemmas before the decision maker
- Possible courses of action, their merits & demerits
- Chosen course of action - Merits as well addressing the demerits
- Conclusion - values which are upheld, benefits that accrue.
➤ What should the subheadings be? - The general structure of the answer:
- Identify the facts of the case- This task is very important because it helps separate facts from biases and stereotypes that we may have. Many times, when we witness the term 'politician' in the question, we may have the tendency to associate corrupt practices with him. However, if the case study does not mention any wrong doing on his part, we cannot assume this to be true. In our answer, we must explore an optimist possibility - but that will still be a possibility, not a fact.
- Identify the stakeholders in the situation and their interests. This exercise helps in recognizing different people (including self) or institutions that will be affected in any course of action. These people have varying interests, sometimes common, sometimes conflicting. Ultimately, the decision will be taken solely on merits and not on individual or group preferences, but identifying the interests of various stakeholders helps one understand the broader picture and take a more reasoned decision.
- Identify the Ethical dilemmas: This is the core aspect of the case study. An ethical dilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two courses of action, either of which entails transgressing a moral principle. It is a decision-making problem between two possible moral imperatives, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. For example, a soldier may face an ethical dilemma: leave his post under attack to help save his father's life, or follow his sense of duty?
- Once we identify various stakeholders and their interests, it becomes easy to identify the dilemma- should I do X or Y, should I prefer value A over B, or should I give benefit to person 1 or 2? Neither of the choices is unambiguously correct, but it has to be made and reasoned.
- Note- An ethical dilemma should be presented in form of conflict of values rather than the resulting conflict of actions i.e. preferring value A v/s value B rather than doing X (which is a consequence of preferring value A) v/s doing Y (which is a consequence of value B). In the situation of the soldier mentioned above, it would mean that the ethical dilemma is Professional duty v/s personal responsibility rather than staying at post v/s tending to his father. When we write the actions, we end up repeating what is already there in the problem statement.
- Identify the various plans of actions, their merits and demerits. Once we are able to list down the dilemmas, it becomes clear as to what possible courses of action will we choose. At its simplest, it would be giving higher priority to a particular value over the others, and the consequential course of action. Formulating these courses of action becomes straightforward if we have chronologically followed the above order and identified ethical dilemmas.
- While writing merits and demerits, students are advised to focus on consequences (i.e. events) as well as values. Consequences are not those given in the case study, but are events that have higher possibility of occurring once you choose a particular course of action. In the soldier case, the merit of choosing to stay will be a higher chance of thwarting the enemy and protecting the nation, reflecting patriotism as an apex virtue and showing a sense of commitment towards duty. Demerit will be potential loss of life of his father accompanied by a possible lifelong internal guilt of not doing enough.
- Doing nothing or resigning from post is also a decision which many students write in the answers. It is not an ethical decision because it does not resolve the situation, only delays the consequences, creates internal dissonance and reflects a weak, selfish personality.
- Decision making- Identifying the course of action. Once we identify merits and demerits of the given/formulated courses of action, it gives us a direction about which plan to choose. Important aspect here is not just repeating what has already been written above but to go further. Once we have chosen the plan, which we think is right, we must address its demerits.
- As a civil servant, you will not only be expected to do what is right, bu t also minimize what all wrongs may emerge. You are accountable for the decision- to your senior authority, to judiciary, to the government as well as the people. Whatever your decision is, you will be expected to know and explain why you chose it over the other possibilities.
- Has your decision been made through the due process or is it arbitrary? Is it based on the principles of neutrality, objectivity and impartiality or does it smack of bias? Further, even if it meets all the rules and regulations, are there any fallouts? How do you plan to minimize the demerits and losses? - All this information is necessary while you are explaining your decision.
- Conclusion-It is advisable to end the answer with a reflection of values. Student may add a few lines about the values that have been upheld- constitutional and civil service values such as empathy, dedication to public service, fraternity, leadership under challenging situations, sensitivity and interest towards other cultures, etc.
➤ Structure of answer for the given case study
- Facts of the case:
- There is corruption in the PWD in awarding contracts and use of low-quality material
- The top management is also involved.
- His complaints are going unheard and he has been asked to keep silence on the issue
- Stakeholders and their interests:
- Myself (Engineer) - To work in an honest & healthy environment with opportunities for career growth and uphold defined quality standards in projects. Besides, there is a personal interest to ensure job security.
- Senior Management- those who are aware of the malpractices would like to keep the misdeeds concealed; those who are not a party to corruption would want to preserve integrity of the department. As is reflected from the case study's language, it appears that atleast some persons in the senior management would like the current corrupt arrangement to continue.
- The Department (PWD) - The department/institution would like to be manned by people with honesty and integrity, who can perform work efficiently. It will also like to complete projects on time and adhere to proper construction standards.
- Ethical Dilemmas faced by the PWD Engineer - should he sacrifice the public interest or try to end the corrupt practice by direct personal confrontation? Should he blow the whistle on the practitioner of corrupt practice or keep silent when he finds out that administrative powers are being misused? Possible dilemmas include-
- Upholding professional values or succumbing to personal interest to maintain his career
- Obeying directives of the seniors or follow his values
There is breach of trust in the public office if he chooses to gloss over corruption. Moreover, it may create cognitive dissonance whereby he may be under constant guilt for tacitly being a party to it.
- Options before the engineer: The engineer's temptations may incline him/her to act in a certain manner. These can be:
- Being a party to corruption- Commission of crime which entails punishment can never be a rational choice, still it is a test of character and will in the given circumstances.
(i) Merits- This will bring monetary benefits and may help career progression through the good rapport developed with senior management.
(ii) Demerits- Apart from being illegal and blatantly wrong, even the benefits are not certain. Corrupt practices do get caught, more so in the era of increasing accountability. This will invite departmental action and even lead to dishonorable termination from service. Moreover, in the event of getting caught, everyone will try to save themselves first, and he being a newly recruited engineer may find little support in the senior staff.
- To approach the departmental anti-corruption body
(i) Merits- Addressing corruption through the departmental channels should be the first step. It serves as a mechanism to ensure accountability of all employees.
(ii) Demerits- Firstly, there is burden of proof on the person and it is unethical, even illegal to put allegations without substantive proof. This approach may backfire. Secondly, there is no surety that this department may not be compromised as the top management already knows and is party to corruption. Moreover, once the complaint becomes official, the seniors may not be very positive about performance evaluation.
- To leak the details of corruption to the media
(i) Merits- This method will give anonymity and therefore chances of personal backlash are less. Also, media being very powerful will help create public pressure about impartial inquiry and punishment of dishonest officials.
(ii) Demerits- This is a breach of organizational rules and bypassing the procedure. An individual is not bigger than the organisation. Also, in absence of credible information, media may not be very interested in the case and may downplay it as an accepted practice. Moreover, this is too serious to be trusted to media persons whose credibility is uncertain.
- Preferred course of action: Upholding trust in a public office is the duty of officeholder. Abetting practices that undermine trust is dereliction of duty. The course of action that I would choose in the given situation will expose corrupt practices and lead to reaffirmation of confidence in the department.
- I will approach the vigilance department and submit a written complaint along with whatever proofs I have. Based on this, I will appeal for an enquiry into the matter. The inquiry committee has to seriously look into the allegations made, investigate with impartiality, and arrive at proper conclusion in a time-bound manner. I am also duty bound to accept their findings.
- There may be possibilities that the enquiry committee's constitution is delayed or that it itself comprises of people against whom allegations are made. I will pursue the matter continuously with the vigilance department unto satisfaction.
- In the extreme case, I may also consider complaining to the State/Central Vigilance commission and putting pressure through filing RTI. However, I should also emphasize that the demand is of an impartial enquiry and not necessarily declaring the alleged persons guilty.
- As far as career progression is concerned, it is determined by evaluation of performance based on objective parameters. Both contribution to the department as well behavior at workplace are important. I will try my best to contribute to both by having a strong work ethic as well as maintaining a positive working environment.
By following the above course of action, I would have upheld my duty towards the office and the personal values that I stand for. It also reflects perseverance in the face of adversity and brings out the traits of courage, selflessness and integrity, which are hallmarks of qualities in an individual, more so in a person entrusted with a public office.
➤ Example 2
You, a manager in one of the country's top IT firms, are tasked with hiring new recruits for an upcoming project. You find that the company has given tacit instructions for not hiring female candidates in view of the government's new maternity law. You find this highly objectionable and lodge a protest with people in the higher management but they are firm as they want to cut down all the unnecessary costs.
Based on this information, answer the following questions:
- Identify the stakeholders and their interests in the situation.
- What are the dilemmas that a recruiting manager may face in such a scenario?
What are the different options available to you? Which one will you pursue and why?
- List stakeholders like the hiring manager, the company, female candidates, Government and the society. List their interests.
- Discuss the dilemma(s) you are facing.
- List the available options, analyze each in the light of given circumstances and ethical conduct. Choose the one which you may pursue.
➤ Stakeholder and their interest
- Company/Higher Management: Company's interest is to maximize profit by lowering down cost incurred per employee. In the case of female employee, maternity leave is to be borne by the company. Hence the higher management wants to avoid hiring female candidates.
- Hiring Manager(Myself): My first interest is to hire suitable candidates for the listed positions irrespective of the gender. Avoiding confrontation with management while standing up to unjust policies is the dilemma faced in such situation.
- Female Candidates: Their interest lies in seeking a fair chance to get the company's job. They expect equity in hiring and promotion and a safe working environment in the long run.
- Government and the Society: These stakeholders seek gender equality at workplace; For this it is important that issues arising out of maternity be redressed adequately via legislation(s) and social change. Though various maternity legislation may ensure assured maternity leave, flow of regular income and job security, it alone cannot bring out the societal change required for a gender vibrant culture at workplace.
➤ Dilemma- Accepting the higher management's dictum and avoiding any female candidate v/s being fair and appointing a suitable candidate irrespective of the gender.
- Additionally, I may also face the dilemma of forgoing a better candidate just because of gender. This will lead to loss of productivity and will incur a long-term cost to the company.
- The associated dilemma is the larger issue of gender biasness in society due to patriarchal attitude conflicting with the idea of equality and progress which demands change.
- It's important to promote gender diversity at the workplace; however, the company's current instructions go against this principle.
➤ Different options available:
- Rejecting female candidates- Though with this option I will avoid confrontation with the higher management, this would be contrary to basic human rights and the constitutional ethos of equality. This would filter out many genuine candidates and will constrict the candidate pool. This smacks of short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness.
- Hiring a suitable candidate objectively and without discrimination- This will ensure that the most competent and deserving candidate are hired for the job.
Option which I will pursue: Confrontation is not the way out; persuasion is. The most appropriate way to persuade will be through attitudinal change, which however, is very difficult in the immediate term.
But suppose I can objectively demonstrate that costs associated with hiring women employees are not significantly higher as compared to men and that productivity is independent of gender.
- In that case, I will be able to start the process of attitudinal change. I will take the help of the HR department, and if required, the company's governing board in the matter.
- Regarding recruitment, I have to be objective in assessing candidates, not biased w.r.t. gender. They will be assessed based on their ability as well as job requirement. If the job profile does not demand a particular gender requirement, the tacit instructions should not carry much weight and may be contrary to the company's policies.
- I will report such instructions to the HR as gender discrimination is illegal and vitiates the company's organizational culture and social image. Additionally, I will undertake a gender-sensitivity drive by involving my peers especially the working women in my organization. By doing so I would have upheld the dictum of 'Be the change you want to see'.
➤ Example 3
You are a young civil servant posted in a tribal dominated district, which is notorious for mafia's illegal mining. They exercise their power over the region's poor tribals by bribing the local tribal musclemen who have political aspirations. The consequent easy money and luxury have ensured that these musclemen work in the interest of mining mafia. They use these 'tribal' musclemen as a 'front' to plant 'constructed' news in the media to create confusion or gain sympathy for civil society activists and the public. It is a strategy to thwart any government's concrete action for eliminating the menace of illegal activities in that area.
You quickly understood these designs after assuming the office. You came to know that some employees in your own office are in nexus with mafia. When you initiated stringent action against the mafia they turned hostile. They prompted few tribal musclemen to file a fake FIR against you under the stringent provisions of the 'Prevention of Atrocities Against SC and ST Act'. They also convinced the unsuspecting poor tribals that the state was 'again' launching atrocities against them. These poor tribals were eventually tutored to write a complaint to the National and State Commission for ST, a leaked copy to the media.
This could easily become a very hot issue for the state's opposition parties as the Assembly Elections were due only 6 months later. Unfortunately, all this can have grave consequences for your career.
(a) Bring out and discuss the ethical issues involved in the above case.
(b) What steps will you take in pursuance of the most appropriate closure of this case?
- The basic ethical issue involved is perseverance. You know something to be right and want to pursue it, even in face of adversity. The adversity here is personal integrity, commitment and professional progress at stake.
- The answer should reflect the awareness (as a Civil Servant) that such fabricated cases are a part and parcel of duty in a sensitive area, thus not impacting one's functioning - a reflection of strong emotional character. Political leadership should be taken into confidence, rather than worrying for political results. The focus of the answer should be on ways to pursue the case successfully rather than listing the qualities of a civil servant like empathy, etc.
The answer should consist of the following parts:
- The facts of the case
- The major ethical issues involved
- The course of action, with reasoning
The facts of the case are-
There is illegal mining in a tribal district.
- The nexus of mafia, local leaders and some people in your office want to thwart your attempts to stop it. The local leaders are bribed.
- There is a fake FIR against you and a tutored complaint to National and State Commission for STs.
The ethical issues involved here are -
- The illegal mining being done in the district is a loss for the State as well as the local community. It favours only a handful of people (mining mafia, local musclemen, and compromised State employees). While taking on the mining mafia with stringent legal action is the commendable, taking the tribal population into confidence is equally necessary. As an administrator, one must be aware of the situation in totality and not just aim for immediate & conspicuous objectives. Thus, without adequate awareness campaign inciting local confidence in administration, the effort towards eradication of illegal activities will go in vain. Moreover, the failure will further alienate the tribal confidence in government and thus make any future action requiring tribal cooperation even more difficult. In other words, the local population's fear should be assuaged amicably.
- Local musclemen thrive on two things - (i) finances from illegal activities, and (ii) disconnect between the state and the population. Although such people apparently represent local populations, their true intentions must be exposed. These people may even enjoy legitimacy among the population and a state action against them risks widening of gap between government and the people. Therefore, they must be tackled carefully and systematically.
- The substantive issue in the case is illegal mining, which must be stopped, not the fabricated case. One must deal with fabricated cases with confidence and they should not impact his/ her performance. In fact, one must be ready to face hurdles in such endeavours. The 'Prevention of Atrocities Against SC/STs Act' provides recourse to the High Court for quashing such fake FIRs. Legally, therefore one should not be worried. However, in the event of elections in the State, the government may try to intervene and play into the opposition's hands. As mentioned above, a setback to the case at this stage will let the mafia go off the hook and legitimise the local musclemen and widen the gap between the local population and State. The ethical issue that comes out is how can one remain motivated and committed in such a situation - where the employer, the peers and the effected allegedly conspire against him?
➤ Right course of action towards closure of this case -
The right course of action would involve the following steps:
- A strong case should be built against the mafia's illegal activities. The scope of investigation should be wide, covering the local musclemen as well as government servants. With full cooperation from the investigating and prosecuting agencies, the case can be pursued quickly and the culprits exposed. This will bring facts to the centre and certainly help change public opinion and ensure political cooperation (both government and the opposition).
- Elaborate awareness campaigns about the government policy regarding mining should be carried out so that cooperation of general public can be ensured without the intervention of local musclemen. Their complaints to the SC/ST Commissions should be addressed rather than quashed. Proper and point-wise response to all queries should be provided and made public. Their fears must be assuaged and a negative campaign must be countered. This will bring credibility to the administration in its action against offenders.
- For self-motivation in such circumstances, adherence to truth and having confidence of the team is important. Perseverance as well as leadership qualities will have important bearing on the outcome of the case. One must know that legally he/she is on a strong footing and such hurdles are expected. To address insecurity arising out of political meddling, one must concentrate on the first two points.
By adopting this course of action, I would uphold my constitutional, legal, and moral responsibility. Pursuing the course with courage, integrity and conviction will be a win-win situation for all - the local people, the Government and I. It will increase the confidence of people in democracy and the State institutions. Besides, it will also lead to development of my personal competence.