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Ethics oh ethics

Ethics – it’s the one topic that many people dread, yet when it does get brought up, there’s bound to be a lively discussion. A recent post by Molly reminded me of the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind over the last couple of months.

As usability/web professionals, we sometimes (often it seems!) find ourselves in compromising situations. How do you act and what do you say if you’re asked to do something that goes against what you believe? What happens if you’re asked to analysis, design and implement a project that you feel isn’t appropriate? For internal users, what do you say to a Manager who asks to see the results of an evaluation session that you conducted on one of their staff? What do you do if the Project Manager approaches you and asks you to change your evaluation report as they don’t agree with the conclusions? Should findings from your evaluation sessions be shared within the organisation? What happens if it exposes certain parts of the organisation? Is it ok to reuse parts of recorded evaluation sessions in training sessions, or conference talks?

There are no black and white answers for all of the above (and related) situations. There are various codes of ethics and professional conducts that exist to provide some guidance on these and related issues, such as:

The problem in codes of ethics and conducts lies in the interpretation of the codes, and how it applied to each situation. Oliver K. Burmeister wrote an article titled HCI Professionalism: Ethical concerns in Usability Engineering (PDF, 32kb) which presents five case studies looking at various ethical issues, and the short-comings of one of the Code of Ethics. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it does help by providing various perspectives on some common issues.

Short-comings and all, there are enough codes of ethics and conducts out there to provide guidance on how we conduct ourselves. What I would like to see is a forum where we can share these kind of issues (anonymously perhaps, to protect the privacy of the organisations and customers that we engage) and get advice and help from each other.

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