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UPA Code of Conduct Update

Richard Bellaver

Richard Bellaver is a Professor of Information and Communications science at Ball State University. He is a past Board Member of UPA and is currently the Regional Chapter Coordinator for North America.

There is a new stir in the news about Enron. The CEO is trying to get out of jail. There was a much more violent stir seven years ago before he was put in jail. That stir helped us get the professionals of UPA into thinking about ethics and a need for our Code of Conduct. I helped get the Code enacted and along with Janice James, Rolf Molich, James Needham, and Charlotte Schwendeman formed the Advisory Committee. All Committee members also helped write this article.

At the first UPA Conference after enactment I set up a specific time to discuss any possible violations of the Code as identified by members. I talked to a few folks who were really concerned about anticompetitive activities and not really unethical conduct. I decided not to put a meeting on the next conference agenda and haven't since. I sat back fat, dumb, and happy assuming that because there were no accusations everybody was behaving ethically. I didn't think much about the Code.

However, in the past six months, besides the Enron situation, two other things have brought the Code to mind. First I was notified by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of my University that my Certificate for Human Participant Protection was obsolete and I needed to pass a new test from the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). Since I've had the old Certificate, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, for about 10 years, I figured it was time for me to get updated. What I found, after about five hours of on-line testing, was that in addition to more than I ever wanted to know about IRBs, a good portion of our Code is covered in the CITI Certification.

  • In the Basic Ethical Principles section of the CITI material I found: "Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice."
  • In the Applications section I found: "Informed Consent, Assessment of Risk and Benefits, and election of Subjects."

The good news is that usability professional working under any IRB, which includes most federal, state and some municipal government projects and most Universities, need to be at least familiar with these requirements.

Another, more serious concern arose. One of our Committee members (yes, all the original members are still involved and in communication) became aware of instances of potential violations of privacy and informed consent which are spelled out well in the Code. Since there were no formal accusations in any of the instances, the Advisory Committee, after much email discussion, decided to handle the situations on an informal basis. The matters were handled, but it got all of us thinking. We decided that we needed to do a couple of things.

  1. We need to remind our membership that we have a Code of Conduct and why it was enacted. As I said in the Voice in 2003: "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 in 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." These statements are still true seven years later.
  2. We need to remind members that the official means for calling attention to possible violations of the Code is by informing the Vice President of UPA. The Vice President will inform the rest of the Board and engage the Advisory Committee in investigating the matter. However, on an informal basis each Advisory Committee member will be happy to counsel any UPA member on possible violations. Unfortunately James Needham, a sage advisor on matters of ethics, will be retiring from Academe and this Committee in June. Jim will be missed. You will be advised of his replacement. Addresses of the rest of the Committee can be found through the UPA members directory or contact me at rbellaver@bsu.edu.

The Advisory Committee hopes that these reminders are not needed by the UPA membership. We hope that everyone is working in a fair and ethical manner. If you think that is not the case it is your responsibility to use the Code processes to help protect our users and clients. I am proud to be associated with UPA. I think believing in the ethical principles of the Code and following its mandates makes us a stronger, more dedicated group of professionals.

 

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