Any ethics project is improved with insight from the people it is seeking to influence. There are variety of ways in which such people can be engaged and, in choosing one method over another, it’s important to be clear about what it represents and to be realistic about what it can achieve. We’re probably all familiar with those engagements that purport to be more than what they add up to: for example, the consultation too late to influence the decision, or the survey that avoids the important questions.
This is not to say that one method of engagement is good and another method bad: all forms of engagement have their uses. What matters is being clear about what a particular form of ethical engagement can deliver, with what you want to achieve from it and how you communicate it to those involved.
In this post, I want to outline five ways in which engagement on ethical issues can take place.
Information giving ensures that those people who need to know something are informed about it. Typical processes: press releases, letter, leaflets, speeches, conference presentations, etc.
Information gathering is used to inform an initiator who is engaged in reaching a decision or drawing up a proposal. Typical processes: some focus groups, opinion polls, questionnaires, workplace assessments, etc.
A consultation generates responses to a prepared proposal, with the initiator of the consultation wanting to know what the people being consulted think about it. Typical processes: some focus groups, interactive meetings and workshops, consultation documents, leaflets with response opportunities, etc.
Bounded dialogue is used to confirm that an initial decision is correct or to achieve collaboration on the development of an initiative, policy or strategy springing from that decision, or both. Typical processes: workshops, meetings and events designed to meet the initiator’s needs.
With open dialogue, the aim is to develop a decision that meets the needs of both the initiator of the dialogue and the people being engaged with. The process can be more involved, but the outcomes will have greater resonance. Typical processes: a range of interactive methods lead by a facilitator.