Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Developing a Code of Ethics

Frequently CSEP gets requests from professional societies and other organizations interested in getting some help writing (or rewriting) a code of ethics. Here are some tips and resources that can help smooth the process.

Top down or bottom up?
Though it may be tempting to form a committee of organization leaders to expedite the process, think about ways to give all the stakeholders a voice in the development of your organization’s code of ethics.

In 2005, CSEP started a project to develop a code of ethicsfor its home institution, Illinois Tech.  We hosted a series of focus groups of students, faculty, and staff and asked individuals to share some of the ethical questions and issues they regularly faced.  This approach helped us start an outline of what issues the Illinois Tech Code should cover and make the code relevant to all members of our community.

Don’t reinvent the wheel
Look at the codes of ethics of organizations similar to your own. While codes often have many similar provisions, others have come up with novel ways of providing guidance on issues such as communicating with the public or  upholding fair work practices.

Look outside your organization for help
Have questions? Don’t be afraid to reach out to other ethics committees, ethics and compliance officers, or other experts for help.  The Ethics and Compliance Officer Association, other professional associations both nationally and internationally, and the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics are all good ways to try and connect with individuals who can help in the process.  And, don’t forget, the CSEP Library can help put you in touch with experts in your field who have drafted codes of ethics before.

Try and build consensus
When putting together the Illinois Tech Code of Ethics, CSEP brought together a committee made of individuals who participated in the focus who helped to put together the draft version of the code. This committee then brought it to meetings of the student council, faculty council, and staff council for discussion and approval. Changes were made to the code after each meeting. The process can take time, but the final version proved to be stronger and accepted by the majority of the Illinois Tech community.

Codes are living documents
A good code of ethics should change over time to reflect new ethical challenges faced by an organization. For instance, the American Astronomical Society has been working this spring on a new draft of their code to better handle instances of sexual and other types of harassment. Other issues that might also call for an organization’s code to be revised might be issues of social media, privacy, or international collaborations.

Need more information?
Check out these resources for more help on writing or revising your organization’s code.

 The Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Affairs provides a number of examples that organizations can use in their code of ethics, including the descriptions of ethics and morality, the different kinds of codes, and even a process for developing a code of ethics that will include all organizational stakeholders.
 CSEP's newsletter, Perspectivesfeatured a Fall 1999 issue on Writing a Code of Ethics
 Creating A Code Of Ethics for Your Organization, with many suggested books, by Chris MacDonald
 The Ethics & Compliance Initiative  has a toolkit available for use, including tips, common code provisions, and other helpful guidance.
 The Deloitte Center for Corporate Governance offers a variety of resources for those who are active in governance, including a variety of resources and a set of suggested guidelines for writing a code of ethics or a code of conduct.

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