Ethical Issues in Community Practice Do the ends ever justify the means?
Community organization differs from direct practice in that: • 1)Social transformation is the primary goal of the intervention. • 2)“Clients” are primarily constituency group members, residents of target communities, and members of marginalized populations. In many instances organizers do not have direct contact will all members of the client group. • 3)Both the social worker and program constituents must develop a critical consciousness about social and economic conditions that contribute to the marginalization of oppressed groups. • 4) Most interventions take place in partnership with constituency group members. In some situations, the constituency group serves as the organizer’s employer. • 5) Working with people to gain power often requires the use of confrontation tactics, targeting powerful groups in society. • 6) Ethical conduct is often viewed as situational, requiring that the organizer assess the seriousness of the situation, accessibility of the decision-makers, and possible risks to targets before deciding on the appropriate use of tactics • 7) The organizer may be a member of the target community. In some situations, the organization may prefer to hire a member of the geographic community or person who identifies with the community served (for example, a person with a disability or a gay man or lesbian).
The NASW Code of Ethics guides social work practice, but may not be sufficient to help community organizers or practitioners who incorporate community skills into other forms of practice because: • Much activity takes place outside the organization that employs the worker. • We help people fight for power and consequently encounter opposition from powerful people. • We have opponents or targets who may engage in unethical tactics. • We often work in professional situations in which our colleagues and opponents are not social workers. • We often receive limited supervision in the development of strategies, especially from other social workers. • While community interventions may prove beneficial to individual participants, our intention is not to change the behavior of beneficiaries, but to change society.
Most discussions of ethics in community organization is limited to Alinsky’s “Of means and ends” • One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personalinterest in the issue. • The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment. • In war, the end justifies almost any means. • Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point. • Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa. • The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of the means. • Generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. • The morality of means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory. • Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical. • You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments. • The goals must be phrased in general terms like “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity…..(Alinksy, 1971, pp. 24-47)
Alinksy often embarrassed or humiliated opponents. The question for social workers is: • Are such tactics consistent with the code of ethics? • Are social workers comfortable with such tactics? • Is the situation serious enough to justify such tactics? • Do our participants/constituents wish to participate from or benefit from these tactics? • How important is it to produce a successful outcome? For example, in community development, the process is more important than the outcome. In politics, however, “winning is everything.”
Codes of Ethics incorporate certain values or principles that should guide practice. Values are statements of an ideal that we try to achieve, while ethics offer us directives for action that are derived from the desired values
Basic values associated with community practice include • Cultural diversity and understanding. • Self-determination and empowerment. • Development of a critical consciousness. • Mutual learning and partnership with constituents. • A commitment to social justice and the equal distribution of resources.
Ethical practices that differentiate community organization from micro practice include: • Personal boundary setting and sexual relations. • Choosing tactics that can put people at risk. • Value Conflict between the organizer and beneficiaries/participants. • Informed consent. • Long-terms versus short-term gains. • Reporting criminal activity
Often organizers face ethical dilemmas. According to Hardcastle et al. (1997), ethical dilemmas occur when “two ethical dilemmas require equal but opposite behavior and the ethical guidelines do not give clear directions or indicate clearly which ethical imperative to follow” (p.22). Often the organizer can use prevailing theories to sort out ethical dilemmas and establish appropriate goals. Theories may be deontological, involving “good” or “right” motives or teleological, involving “good” or “right” outcomes achieved by the social change effort in question (Rothman, 1998).
One tool for making ethical choices relies on the social work code of ethics: Lowenberg & Dolgoff (1996) have developed an ethical rules screen based on the principles in the NASW Code of Ethics. • Principle #1 Protection of Life • Principle #2 Equality and Inequality • Principle #3 Autonomy and Freedom • Principle #4 Least Harm • Principle #5 Quality of Life • Principle #6 Privacy and Confidentiality • Principle #7 Truthfulness and Full Disclosure (p. 63).
Reisch & Lowe (2000) have identified an appropriate problem-solving model that social workers can use to address ethical dilemmas: • Identify the ethical principles that apply to the situation at hand. • Collect additional information necessary to examine the ethical dilemma in question. • Identify the relevant ethical values and/or rules that apply to the ethical problem. • Identify any potential conflict of interest and the people who are likely to benefit from such conflicts. • Identify appropriate ethical rules and rank order them in terms of importance. • Determine the consequences of applying different ethical rules or ranking these rules differently (p. 26).
Supervision & Consultation should also be used to resolve ethical dilemmas. This can include a combination of the following resources: 1) Constituency Group Members and Beneficiaries of Social Change Processes. 2) Peers. 3) Agency Supervisory Staff. 4) Board Members. • 5) Mentors. • 6) Professional Organizations. For example, NASW, Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) and the (non- social work related) National Organizer’s Alliance and COMM-ORG.
Discussion Questions • What type of ethical dilemmas would you expect to encounter in macro practice? • What type of ethical dilemmas would you expect to encounter using a multi-systems approach? • How would you personally resolve the “Hitler” dilemma?
Ethical Rules Screen Principle #1 Protection of Life Principle #2 Equality and Inequality Principle #3 Autonomy and Freedom Principle #4 Least Harm Principle #5 Quality of Life Principle #6 Privacy and Confidentiality Principle #7 Truthfulness and Full Disclosure Problem-solving Approach Identify the ethical principles that apply to the situation at hand. Collect additional information necessary to examine the ethical dilemma in question. Identify the relevant ethical values and/or rules that apply to the ethical problem. Identify any potential conflict of interest and the people who are likely to benefit from such conflicts. Identify appropriate ethical rules and rank order them in terms of importance. Determine the consequences of applying different ethical rules or ranking these rules differently Exercise: Use the following tools to resolve one of the ethical dilemmas in Chapter 2.