AuthorVazquez, Jose Luis
  1. Introduction

    Although the concept of social responsibility was originally linked to private companies, it is nowadays considered applicable to all types of entities (Rodriguez-Bolivar et al., 2015; Gaete, 2008). In essence, it defines a new strategic paradigm for organizations to integrate social and environmental concerns into their operations with the aim of preventing and mitigating their possible adverse impacts and maximizing the creation of shared value for all their stakeholders (European Commission, 2001). Accordingly, the recommendations of several international institutions give special prominence to public administration's role in both regulating and representing a model of sustainability for other organizations by incorporating the principles and philosophy of social responsibility into its own structure and activity (European Commission, 2011). This paper delves into this second function by analyzing citizens' perceptions on social responsibility of public administration in comparison to other organizational contexts. Around this goal, we define public administration organizations as those that perform the government's administrative and management functions.

    Previous researches analyzing citizens' awareness of social responsibility has focused on private companies, concluding that contribution to social and environmental causes may induce consumer goodwill towards firms and their products (Brown and Dacin, 1997; Becker-Olsen et al., 2006; Alniacik et al., 2011). In the public sphere, the main evidence in this regard comes from specific self-managed institutional contexts, such as public universities (Vallaeys, 2008; Ceulemans and De Prins, 2010; Gonzalez and Martos, 2010; Argandona, 2012), supporting the same positive effects of social responsibility perceptions on students' experiences and attitudes towards the institution (Vazquez et al., 2014). However, even when transparency and citizen participation is considered a key element of current policies in Europe (European Commission, 2006), there are yet few sustainability reports developed by other types of public organisms (Frost, 2007; Guthrie and Farneti, 2008; Mussari and Monfardini, 2010) or studies expressly aimed to analyze social responsibility of public administration (Dumay et al., 2010; Navarro-Galera et al., 2014). Presumably, this gap in the literature might have to do with the fact that social responsibility is usually considered a redundant topic in public administration organizations, as these are by definition oriented to meet social demands. However, this does not mean that citizens perceive public administration to be responsible in all its dimensions; quite the contrary, citizens usually report high dissatisfaction with functioning of public services (Gaete, 2008).

    This paper considers the proximity of the concept of social responsibility to public administration's basic mission in society, and argues that organizational goals in different institutional settings might guide citizens' expectations of social responsibility and, consequently, thresholds of satisfaction on the matter. In particular, our basic research question is what type of responsible behavior do citizens expect from public administration organizations when compared to other private or public organizations? A better understanding in this sense may help public administration agencies develop plans and strategies that are more efficient in their dual regulating and endorsing role in the social responsibility area.

    From this framework, the paper contributes to the previous literature by comparing citizens' expectations of social responsibility in three organizational contexts: public administration organizations, private companies, and public universities. This design allows us, on the one hand, to define the social perception on social responsibility in public administration organizations in comparison with profit-driven companies, in which responsible behavior is more likely to be understood as voluntary. On the other hand, we analyze the extent to which perceptions on responsibility of public administration organizations differ from other public contexts. In this regard, we choose public universities for two main reasons. First, they represent self-managed institutions with a much more specific mission than public administration organizations, this probably affecting the way citizens frame social responsibility in public contexts. Second, in the last decades the concept of university social responsibility has been notably developed and incorporated into the habitual functioning of several European universities (Baranano, 2010).

    According to this focus, next section reviews the literature on social responsibility in public administration organizations, summarizes main research evidence on citizens' perceptions on social responsibility, and proposes a model of indicators of internal and external social responsibility to compare citizens' expectations in different institutional contexts. Then, we describe and present the results of an empirical study aimed to analyze citizens' expectations of social responsibility in public administration organizations, private companies and a public university in Spain. Finally, the results of the study and their implications and limitations are discussed.

  2. Conceptual framework

    2.1. Social responsibility in public administration organizations

    In a study performed for the World Bank, Fox et al. (2002) identified four principal roles of public administration in the area of social responsibility: mandating, facilitating, partnering and endorsing. First, in their mandating role, public sector bodies define minimum standards for business performance embedded in the legal framework (for example, establishment of emission limit values for industrial installations). Second, as facilitators, public agencies incentivize companies and other key actors to engage with social responsibility initiatives by creating specific incentives and supporting appropriate management tools and mechanisms. Third, organizations of public administration may act as participants, conveners or facilitators of strategic partnerships with the private sector and civil society in tackling social and environmental problems. Fourth, in their endorsing role, public administration is expected to promote the concept of social responsibility through public diffusion, direct recognition of the efforts of individual enterprises and other related actions.

    Public administration's endorsing role also includes the adoption of social responsibility principles in its own management practices, thus playing a driving and revitalizing role for society as a whole and representing a model of reference for citizens and organizations. In this context, public administration should not adopt an authoritarian position, but act as an agent of change. In other words, the institutions of the state administration, beyond their natural orientation towards the satisfaction of basic needs, should demonstrate an exemplary behavior and be proactive and emphatic with emergent demands, such as sustainable development, citizen participation and social cohesion (Gaete, 2008).

    Notably, the EU strategy for corporate social responsibility encourages public authorities to play a supporting role through a smart mix of voluntary policy measures and complementary regulations to promote transparency, create market incentives for responsible business behavior, and ensure corporate accountability (European Commission, 2011). In addition, the strategy stresses the importance that public administration organizations demonstrate, and give visibility to their own responsible practices (Navarro-Galera et al., 2014). These recommendations are in line with the principles for managing ethics in the public service established by OECD (1998), and are being progressively adopted by national governments in public administration's management systems and relationships with key stakeholders (Hernandez, 2007).

    Particularly in Spain, the current strategy for enterprises, public administration organizations and other institutions to advance towards a more competitive and sustainable economy (Ministry of Employment and Social Security, 2014) calls public sector agencies to apply to themselves the same standards they apply to companies and other organizations. Within this framework, Spanish public management systems have become involved in several responsibility actions, including internal plans to promote equality of opportunity in employment, prioritization of public contracts based on social, environmental and parity criteria, elaboration of citizens' rights charters and participative budgets, and creation of the National Agency for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Quality of Services (Hernandez, 2007). Similarly, the adoption of United Nations' Agenda 21 by most public sector agencies in Spain represents a key milestone (Yera and Pin, 2010).

    To facilitate the public sector's endorsing role, the national strategy encourages the elaboration of corporate governance and sustainability reports at all levels of public administration for presentation before higher government bodies, as expression of effective support and monitoring of social responsibility policies. Complementarily, consulting citizens regularly about their knowledge and awareness of the level of penetration of social responsibility in the Spanish society is considered a public administration basic tool in the design of further strategic plans. This reflects the evolution from a concept of citizens as customers of public services to an 'open government' in which citizens participate in the development of public policies (United Nations, 2010). Notably, consumer information and transparency are key elements of current policies in Europe, given that citizens have the power to provide effective incentives for social responsibility in several...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT