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Speaking truth to power: political advisers’ and civil servants’ responses to perceived harmful policy proposals

  • Birgitta Niklasson (a1), Peter Munk Christiansen (a2) and Patrik Öhberg (a1)


How are civil servants and politically appointed advisers likely to respond to policy proposals that they believe will harm their countries severely even if they are legal? Based on the different loyalties and roles of political advisors (PA) and civil servants (CS), we hypothesise that (1) PAs are more likely to voice internally, (2) CSs are more likely to voice externally and (3) CSs in functionally politicised systems are more likely to stay silent. These hypotheses are tested on – and partially supported by – data collected through two surveys directed to the ministerial staffs in Denmark and Sweden. PAs are more likely to voice internally, but none of the two groups is particularly keen to voice externally. The propensity to voice concerns in case of perceived harmful policy proposals depends on the kind as well as the level of politicisation.


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Cite this article: Niklasson B, Christiansen PM, Öhberg P. 2019. Speaking truth to power: political advisers’ and civil servants’ responses to perceived harmful policy proposals. Journal of Public Policy X: 1–21, doi:10.1017/S0143814X18000508



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