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Status Report on the Code of Conduct

by Richard Bellaver
Vice President, Usability Professionals' Association

Last year in this medium of communication I asked if UPA needed a Code of Conduct. I stated the number of law suits about corporate corruption in progress at that time. (Since that time we have had WorldCom and a few more.) The object of my rambling was that your Board of Directors thought we needed a Code of Conduct for UPA and was in the process of developing one.

We had established a volunteer committee to create the basic structure and wording. The committee had looked at other organizational codes and modified and added to represent the types of ethical dilemmas found in professional usability work. That first pass at the Code was tuned by the Board and placed for comment on our web site in February of 2004.

There were very few comments addressed to me in the first six months of appearance. I made two assumptions from that fact. One was that the need to live under the Code was so apparent that there needed to be no comment. The second assumption was that everyone understood that there is no perfect wording for such a document and what was there was “acceptable.”

Last summer we did get some comments on wording and concepts and the original code was slightly modified. We also established an Ethics Review Committee, chaired by Chauncey Wilson, and composed of three much respected UPA members and one non-member who teaches ethics at a University. In September the Board approved the Code for a one year trial. It went back to the web site for comments.

I have received no comments on the latest version. I think that is very good news (I make the same assumptions as above.) But I want to make sure everyone understands the ramifications of the continuing process. At the Conference this summer we will have a Special Interest Group specifically for Code of Conduct. We had one last year that didn’t draw a very big crowd and obviously ended in continuing with acceptance of the Code. This year we will consider any meaningful modifications again and make any changes agreed upon.

By September, when the trial year is up, and if the Board approves it, you will be required to signify acceptance of the Code when you renew your membership. Non acceptance means that membership application will be refused. Remember that is a far as we can go! Failure to accept or proof of violation of the Code leads to expulsion from the organization. This Code is not a legal document. There were no lawyers that I know of who did the drafting. The advisory Committee is basically there to give advice as to how to avoid violations of the Code, but they will handle complaints of alleged violations and render judgments if necessary.

In my opinion this code has more to do with morality than legality. But in most cases one follows the other. Was the CFO of WorldCom a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and did he sign off on their Code of Conduct? I don’t know, but if he did I am sure he isn’t worried about his AICP penalty.

As I said last year, I believe that any organization needs to have a mission statement and some 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 the way we practice the art and science of usability.

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.”

Please make any comment you want now. Come to the SIG in Montreal. Be proud to be a member of an organization that endorses a Code of Conduct.

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