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Feb 2004 Contents

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Does the UPA need a Code of Conduct?

Richard Bellaver

Director of Professional Development

Enron, Tyco, and Martha Stewart need I say more? Well, yes I should. Those of us on the Board of Directors think UPA needs a Code of Conduct and I (with help from Whitney Quesenbery and Gary Macomber) am going to try to convince you with this message.

Individually many of us are irate with the scandalous behavior of some of the mentioned companies and other leaders of the business world. We can gripe about those rotten managers and accountants. Don’t they have any ethics? Don’t they have any Codes? Well apparently some of them don’t have the former but most do have the latter. See the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants web site. Organizations closer to us, such as ACM, STC & IEEE have codes. The University of British Columbia has about 50 professional organizations listed on a web site called EthicsWeb.ca. So why does UPA need a Code of Conduct and why would I use CPAs as a model for organizational ethics? Well, accountancy has probably the most stringent rules of ethics of any profession and they have had the most blatant violations. The bad guys are now awaiting trial, but what are the many, many more good guys doing? They are standing before their clients or management and holding up established specific codes of ethics and saying, “We are not like the bad guys because we follow these rules.”

This appeal has certainly been negative up to this point and I don’t mean to be. I believe that any organization needs to have a mission statement and goals as we have spelled out under UPA Overview, but I also think the people of the organization need a “Statement of Beliefs” pertaining to the organization’s reason for existence. Our reason for existence is “to provide a community of interest for the practice of usability.” Think of the Code of Conduct as helping us articulate our statement of beliefs. Think of the value of having a guide of ethics to use in educating clients and new usability professionals. We can have a very positive departure from the negative appearance of “those other professionals.” Besides its what my mother taught me as the right thing to do.

Based on some great get-started input from Chauncey Wilson, (he may have remembered his mother too) several volunteers have been working on such a statement of beliefs for usability professionals. The document is in two parts, a very short generalized Code and a list of details or examples for each item in the Code. The Board feels that the document is at the point that all members should be involved in its creation and implementation. As far as creation is concerned the committee looked at the several established codes mentioned above and particularized some of that content to our profession while adding original material specific to usability.

As far as implementation is concerned the other groups run the gamut from “Here are some things about our profession to which you should pay some attention.” to “Here are the rules. Here is the violation reporting policy. Here is the specific wording we are going to use to throw violators out of the organization.” I tend to think UPA should be somewhere in the middle. I think as a part of new or renewed membership we should be asked to sign off on, at least, Part One of the Code. We would have to establish a simple violations reporting policy and then maybe a special committee to review and recommend either non-action or expulsion from UPA.

Ok, I’ve had my say. Now it’s your turn. You can find the text of the proposed code and other materials on the project page. There are instructions on the site to contribute your comments to a discussion. Our goal is to present the code, after incorporating your views, to the membership at the June Conference.

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