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An Approach to Ethics & Policy Decision Making 17 August 03

Other ethics & policy tools

Preliminary Considerations for Ethical Decision Making

There are at least five matters that the decision maker must be clear about in his or her own mind before beginning the formal process of ethics and policy decision making:

A. What motivated the need for choice: a sense of inquiry, betterness, or uneasiness?

B. Is one framing a question, developing an argument, or deciding how to act?

C. For purposes of this decision only, what can be reasonably assumed to be true ?

D. What is meant by the concept "values," and what is the significance of values in making a choice?

E. What constitutes "quality judgment" and "quality action" under these circumstances?

Ethics and Policy Decision Making

1. Identify the desired result. A vision of a desired future? A question to pursue? An argument to support a position? A resolution of a dilemma? A solution to a problem?

If to solve a problem, for example, be sure it is a problem not just a symptom. (Likert 126)

Describe the desired result clearly.

2. Describe the conditions or criteria that the result must meet to be satisfactory?

These are the essential criteria. List, in addition, the other conditions that it would be desirable for a result to meet. (Likert 126)

Minimum essential criteria include that the result is a quality judgment or quality action that is feasible, suitable, and cost-acceptable, specifically taking into account opportunity cost. (Eccles passim)

Include the specific ethics test to be applied: e.g., right-versus-wrong issues, right-versus-right paradigms. (Kidder 184-85); another approach is to strive for a solution that is true, good, and beautiful and reflect the reality of being (epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics).

An organizational essential requirement is that the result is consistent with the organization's purpose and values. (Collins & Porras, Built to last)

Identify the legal and organizational rules that apply to the result. (MacDonald http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/chrismac/ publications/guide.html)

3. Identify all stakeholders, i.e. who are involved, affected, and knowledgeable in the decision making process or will be in the result. What are their relationships?

If an organizational or community decision, further categorize the stakeholders as either internal or external.

4. Search for all reasonably promising results and list them. Use brainstorming. What else is possible?

Try to use different frames of reference and ways of looking at the desired result in order to develop new and better results. (Likert 126)

5. Obtain all the relevant facts concerning the the extent to which each of the proposed solutions will or will not meet the criteria for an acceptable result—or be likely to do so.

What are the stakeholders' perspectives? That is, how do they understand the facts of the matter; what do they value concretely and in the abstract; and what do they understand the key concepts to mean? (Suggested by Paul passim)

How valuable is each stakeholder perspective? That is, how stable are they? If they conflict, can the conflicts be harmonized? If not, how does one prioritize among them?

6. Evaluate all the alternatives by examining them in terms of the criteria or conditions that a result must meet (essentials) and also those that are considered desirable (desirables). (Likert 126)

What alternatives best meet the criteria of the desired result? Be prepared to support your evaluations with reasons and justifications. ( See also Ethical Decision Styles 19)

Test for right-versus-wrong paradigms, then test for right-versus-right issues. (Kidder 184-85)

7. Compare the alternatives and choose the alternative that best meets the essential and desired criteria.

Eliminate first all the alternatives that do not meet the essential conditions. Then, eliminate, progressively, those alternatives that meet the desirable conditions least satisfactorily. (Likert 126)

The object is to make a good choice with the information available, not make a perfect choice.

8. Carry the choice forward.

Share the vision. Pursue the question. Make the argument. Act on the resolution. Begin implementing the solution. Ethics and policy choices presume action, though a decision to do nothing where one has the power to act is also action. (Mises passim)

Take responsibility for the choice, the quality action required to take it forward, and the consequences.

9. Reflect on the consequences of the choice and the actions effecting it and learn from both the process and the consequences.

What questions do they raise? What arguments can be made for staying the course or changing? What could have been done better in arriving at the result? At implementing the result?

Works Consulted

Altier, William J. The Thinking Manager's Toolbox: Effective Processes for Problem Solving and Decision Making. Cambridge: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.

Collins, James C. and Jerry I. Porras. Built to last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: HarperBusiness, 1994.

Eccles, Henry E. Logistics in the National Defense. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1981.

Krolick, Sanford. Ethical Decision-Making Style: Survey and Interpretive Notes. Addison-Wesley Training Systems, 1987.

Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1991.

Likert, Rensis and Jamie Gibson Likert. New Ways of Managing Conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

Leavitt, Harold. "Management and Management Education in the West: What's Right and What's Wrong? The Management of Organizations: Strategies, Tactics, Analyses. Ed. Michael L. Tushman, Charles O'Reilly, and David A. Nadler. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. 3rd rev. ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1966.

Paul, Richard W. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive In a Rapidly Changing World. 2nd Rev. ed. Ed. A.J.A. Blinker. Santa Ana, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1992.


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