Reasons for action and good judgement: revitalising professional ethics

Academics: Dr U. Heuer, Dr R. Lawlor, Professor P. Väyrynen, Dr G. Lang, Professor C. Megone and  Dr J. Dow, Faculty of Arts

Work by the University of Leeds on the development of individual good judgement has improved the way individuals engage with ethics training and embedded ethics in professional practice.

Increasing public scrutiny presses businesses and professions to address ethical issues at all levels of decision making. However textbooks typically just present a selection of ‘ethical theories’, and professions have tended to use mere statements of ethical codes.

Leeds’ research underpins a different framework for practical professional ethics. The findings emphasise the role of learning from guidance and experience in the development of character and the capacity for good judgement. Also the importance of organisational values being apprehended on an emotional level, through habituation, if they are to inform decision making. Using this approach, Leeds has transformed the practice of professional bodies with activities designed to increase individual engagement with ethics, enhance good judgement and embed values to promote genuine integrity.

Commissioning the Leeds team to assess [our ethical] culture has proved invaluable…

Head of Internal Audit at the Higher Education Funding Council for England

Leeds developed training for engineers on the Royal Academy of Engineering’s (RAEng) ethical principles, using case studies designed with practitioners to foster good judgement by providing experience of engaging with ethical issues. The success of this led to Leeds designing web-based case studies on the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s ethics code, which attract over 800 members on average a month. Leeds advanced the approach further by developing a RAEng ethics guide for all 350,000 UK engineers and an ethics template for the National Nuclear Laboratory (800+ engineers).

The Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales funded a project on the importance of organisational culture and leadership, reflecting the Leeds approach, which has been disseminated worldwide with events attended by the World Bank and the Financial Services Authority. Leeds redesigned the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (worldwide membership 23,000) ethics training in collaboration with practitioners, creating online case studies to foster emotional engagement in ethical judgement.

The research is used in the final report of the Leveson Inquiry on the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press as part of evidence on the role of organisational culture and leadership in the development of good ethical judgement in the media.

Leeds has made its work accessible to small businesses and sole practitioners through a Professional Ethics Network developed with charitable funding.

“We wanted to provide a support service for our members, who may face ethical dilemmas in an engineering context…We are delighted with the case studies and judging by the web stats our members greatly appreciate the resource.”

Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Membership Manager
Funders: Institute of Engineering and Technology, Royal Academy of Engineering, Institute of Chartered Accountants for England & Wales, Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, Leveson Inquiry on the Culture and Practice and Ethics of the Press