ethics and 
Leadership and Duty

I expect that most papers will be organized as a review and discussion of the relevant literature to answer your proposed research question, but if you wish to incorporate data analysis and findings, that is also appropriate. Papers should be typed, double-spaced, use 1-inch margins and 12-point font, and use appropriate and consistent citing of sources. No fewer than 8 of your total sources should be books and/or articles from peer-reviewed journals; sources such as popular press or websites are not counted toward the 8 and should be used as supplemental information or data to support your conclusions. The paper should be approximately 20 pages in length.

Suggested Topics for PS 538 Research Paper:

Please note: This is not an exclusive, exhaustive, or even comprehensive list of possible topics for the PS 538 research paper. This is a list designed to stimulate your thinking regarding possible issues related to ethics that you could explore in depth for your research paper requirement. You may choose one of the following, a combination of the following, or a topic of your own development that is not on this list.
Ethics and Public Service Values
•Ethics Compliance Officer (ECO) – how common are these positions in the 
public, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors? What differentiates organizations with 
ECOs from those without?
•Internal and External Controls – what are the common types of controls used in 
public/nonprofit organizations? Which are most effective? Under what 
•Public Service Ethics – how has our understanding and application of ethics in 
the public sector evolved? How do ethics relate to and promote the public 
•Defining Ethics – are there differences between administrative ethics, business 
ethics, public service ethics, and just plain ethics? How do the terms ethics, morality, and law relate to our overall understanding of public service ethics?

Leadership and Duty
•Principal-Agent Theory – what are the ethical implications of the principal-agent 
relationship inherent in public and nonprofit organizations?
•Accountability – to whom/what are public administrators accountable?
•Ethics Commissions – how prevalent are ethics commissions? What 
differentiates cities/states with such commissions from those without? How effective are ethics commissions at facilitating a strong culture of ethics in public and nonprofit organizations?
•Leadership – what exemplifies ethical leaders?

•Composition of Codes of Ethics – through systematic analysis, compare and 
contrast the codes of ethics of several public and/or nonprofit organizations. What elements are present/absent in each? What constitutes a “good” code of ethics?
•Enforcement of Codes of Ethics – how do organizations differ in their enforcement mechanisms? Which ones are the most effective?
•Unethical Conduct – what explains unethical choices by public administrators? 

Theories and Dimensions of Ethics
•For any of the theories on ethics discussed in your readings, explore:
o how the theory (or theories) was developed
o how two or more theories compare/contrast with one another o how theories inform the application of ethical behavior

Institutional Review Board (IRB)
•What constitutes an effective IRB?
•How does the use of an IRB process facilitate the public interest?
•How does an IRB facilitate transparency and accountability? 

Making Ethical Decisions
•What are bounded rationality, bounded ethicality, ethical fading, and motivated 
reasoning, and what is the implication/applicability of each to ethical behavior? 
How does an understanding of each facilitate/hinder ethical decision making?
•Do whistleblower laws enhance ethical behavior in public and nonprofit 
•What is the most appropriate way to express dissent, i.e. challenge behavior 
deemed unethical, in a public and/or nonprofit organization?
•How successful have whistleblowers been in changing behavior within public 
and/or nonprofit organizations?

Ethical Culture
•How pervasive is corruption/unethical behavior in public and/or nonprofit 
organizations? What are the implications for public governance?
•What are the elements of a strong, positive ethical culture in organizations?
•How do public and/or nonprofit organizations promote a culture of ethics?
•What is the responsibility of the leadership/management in facilitating ethical 
Ethics and Public Policy
•How do cities and states differ in their open meetings laws? How important are 
open meetings/ “sunshine” laws to issues of accountability and transparency?
•What are the ethical aspects of public policymaking?
•Who are Inspectors General and how do they promote ethical behavior?
•Why is it important for nonprofit organizations to establish conflict of interest 
•Why is it important for elected officials to be ethical?

Ethics and Good Governance
•Why is it important for public administrators to be ethical?
•How do ethics contribute to good governance?
•How does a commitment to accountability and transparency by public and/or 
nonprofit organizations promote the public interest? 
For additional ideas, I encourage you to explore the articles posted to my Ethics and Leadership board on Pinterest: leadership/.

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