A Social Commons Ethos in Public Policy-Making

Jennifer Lees-Marshment, Aimee Dinnin Huff, Neil Bendle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In the business ethics literature, a commons paradigm orients theorizing toward how civil society can promote collaboration and collectively govern shared resources, and implicates the common good—the ethics of providing social conditions that enable individuals and collectives to thrive. In the context of representative democracies, the shared resources of a nation can be considered commons, yet these resources are governed in a top-down, bureaucratic manner wherein public participation is often limited to voting for political leaders. Such governance, however, can be motivated by values of solidarity and stewardship, and a bottom-up approach to participation, in ways that are consistent with a social commons ethos (Meyer and Hudon in J Bus Ethics 160:277–292, 2019). We employ an inductive methodology focused on successes and possibilities, using data from interviews with 93 policy-makers and national-level government leaders in 5 democratic countries, and observational and archival data. We reveal how governments can operationalize a social commons ethos in decision-making. This approach to governance involves stakeholder engagement that is Broad, Deep, and Continual (BDC). In this model, leaders engage a wide breadth of stakeholders, engage them deeply and meaningfully throughout the decision-making process, and sustain this engagement in a continual manner. Implications for governance of non-governmental bureaucracies are discussed, including the normative and strategic benefits of engaging stakeholders in this manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-778
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


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