Dialogue “Discretion and Responsibility in Public Service Leadership”: Participants’ discussion on how to raise the prestige of public service for professional leaders

Over the past ten years, Ukraine’s public service has experienced progressive changes, but it is hard to call it fully effective. Leaders who can implement new ideas drive positive changes and reforms. However, the turnover of highly qualified and experienced professionals in senior civil service and political positions remains high, significantly affecting institutional sustainability. For example, according to the Ukraine Facility’s Plan, staff turnover in senior positions was 45% in 2020 and almost 30% in 2023.

On April 3, the Aspen Institute Kyiv held a Dialogue, “Discretion and Responsibility in Senior Public Service Positions.”

The participants of the Dialogue discussed the challenges associated with choosing the public service to build a career in leadership positions, as well as ways to improve the system to encourage initiative and innovation. The Dialogue was held under the Chatham House Rule. 

The discussion centered on the issue of discretion of public servants. The participants agreed that decision-making abilities in the civil service are fine, but there is a need to define the principles of discretion. 

According to the participants, to implement reforms and enable bold, innovative decisions, it is necessary to propose changes to policies and relevant legislation and not just act within the framework of sometimes outdated legislation. Speaking about category A, civil servants, in practice, take initiative and find ways to solve existing problems. At the same time, reputational risks and political neutrality are a more significant challenge for them. As for civil servants of categories B and C, the issue of discretion is not the main one for them — financial motivation, sustainability, and independence from political processes are more critical. Participants also spoke about the need to increase the prestige of civil service work, which, in turn, would help to increase its credibility in society. 

The participants of the Dialogue also discussed the balance of discretion and responsibility. Some supported the view that regulating such a balance by law is almost impossible. However, this can be achieved by defining common values and principles for civil servants, including ethics and integrity, and regulating conflicts of interest. Participants also noted the importance of digitalization and automation of public administration to increase efficiency and transparency in this area.

Yegor Grygorenko, Member of the KSE Board; Partner, Deloitte; Head of ConsultingDepartment in Deloitte Ukraine, moderated the Dialogue.

We thank the Dialogue participants for the productive discussion and our partners from the EU4PAR project for the sustainable partnership.