Leadership, Ethics, and Trust, Financial Foundations Framework

What's Fair? Exploring the Behavioral Science of Justice and Fairness

Image from October 2021 GFR

Issues of fairness and justice are central to the work of all government officials, as their roles and power are granted by the will of their constituents and their work can either empower or limit the livelihood of those same people. Although many of the concepts addressed here apply to all public officials, this article focuses on the role of the finance officer because of their role as coordinator of the budget process and steward to financial resources.

GFOA’s Code of Ethics identifies fairness as one of its five core values. Treating people fairly is one of the “Five Pillars” of GFOA’s Financial Foundations Framework. However, concerns about fairness are multifaceted and complex as well as social and political. Our goal is to define what fairness is and find ways to achieve it, and we will investigate three primary forms that fairness can take. Public officials and public servants need to always be thinking about perceptions of fairness, especially in the current climate. By better understanding the three forms of fairness, public servants can better design local government institutions and conduct themselves in ways that are seen as fair.

This series, developed with Ethical Systems, helps define fairness and provide recommendations for local governments navigating issues of fairness within the context of public finance.