43 Civil Servants: Frank and Fearless or Simply Subjective?

Jessica Carlson


Although there is an increasing recognition of the role of bias in decision making, a persistent gap in the literature remains with regard to the role of bias in policy decision making of civil servants. This gap is problematic as the majority of civil servants are by law expected to provide impartial and objective advice. A traditional rhetoric of ‘fearless advice, loyal implementation’ has provided guidance to civil servants with an aim to balance neutral and responsive competence. However, this culture of fearless advice, loyal implementation is dated and not reflective of current complexities that civil servants face in policy decision making. Accordingly, through a comprehensive literature review, combined with personal reflection and observation, a conceptual theory is proposed: a strong belief in or culture of fearless advice and loyal implementation increases certain biases in policy decision making of civil servants through the erosion of protective factors of transparency, discourse and accountability. It is timely to examine bias, discourse, transparency and accountability within the civil service in policy decision making as there are significant advances in collective understandings and substantial opportunities to shift public policies as the world recovers from COVID-19.

Author Note

This paper was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are solely the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Alberta or its officials. The Government of Alberta is not responsible for the contents of this paper, and does not endorse, approve, or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information.

This paper was originally developed for Dr. Giovanni da Silveira, as a Philosophy of Science for Business Administration, graduate course. It was revised following in-depth discussion and feedback. My peers and fellow DBA candidates Dave Carr, Sandeep Mankikar & Anne-Marie Malek also generously provided their time and advice in helping to frame and describe this theory. Further, Dr. Jim Talbot, provided personal reflections and encouragement for the need to express this theory. It is as a result of these contributions that I am able to submit this paper.


Civil Servants: Frank and Fearless or Simply Subjective? Copyright © 2022 by Jessica Carlson. All Rights Reserved.

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