Ethics and the ICT Industry – A Research Agenda

AUTHOR
Richard Lucas and John Weckert

ABSTRACT

Introduction

As a result of a survey and in-depth interviews conducted by the authors (and others) in 2007 they have developed a list of a number of areas within the broad field of ethics, regulations, and ICT 1 within the Australian ICT Industry that are in need of further research. While there are a great many important and interesting results that are deserving of further examination there does seem to be some that are deserving of more immediate action and others which are of a longer term nature.

First and foremost is the research area surrounding what needs to be done now to begin to get better ethical thinking and behaviour. The second research area centres around what needs to be done in the longer term to ensure continued and increased ethical performance. Finally research needs to be conducted into how the management of the ethical integrity systems generally can be improved upon. Schematically the recommendations are as follows:

  • Immediate
    • Education
    • Low Profile of the Code of Ethics
    • Professionalism
  • Long Term
    • Implementing EMS’s
    • New EMS Software
  • Ongoing
    • the state of the industry,
    • ethical regulations,
    • technical and ethical tertiary education, and
    • the differing generations that make up the ICT workforce.

In this abstract only the areas of immedia our deliberations on the other two areas.

Areas of Immediate Concern

Education

The survey suggested that ethics education has no affect on ethical attitudes or on ethical behaviour. While further research would be required to understand why this is so, the survey and the interviews together with the examination of the content of courses that was conducted on the Internet, suggest that there may be a mismatch between what is taught and what the main issues really are for working professionals. This was discussed in the previous chapter.

We recommend that attention is given to three issues:

  • The Content of Ethics Components
  • The Structure of Ethics Components
  • Teachers of Ethics Components

Low Profile of the Code of Ethics

There is not a high awareness of the ACS codes. And many do not see codes of ethics as relevant. The survey showed that awareness of codes in general is higher where those codes are part of the workplace and this is also stated in the literature. Regarding awareness of the ACS codes, we recommend that these codes be part of all ethics components in ACS accredited ICT courses and that the ACS targets workplaces to raise the awareness of the codes in those workplaces. Regarding relevancy, we recommend that there are procedures in place so that the codes are regularly reassessed, and that consideration be given to tailoring the codes to different sub-groups of ITC professionals. Additionally we recommend that attention be paid to ensuring that such codes are a component in a whole of work-life ethical framework.

Professionalism

Research has shown that there is a lack of interest by workers in the ICT industry in being seen as professionals or in ICT being seen as a profession. This might be the result of many different factors. It might be because the industry is so diverse, as can be seen from the large number of self-descriptions of occupations given in the survey, or because a large number of those in the industry do not have ICT qualifications. This two reasons might be partially overcome by the implementation of the previous recommendations but in addition we recommend that more emphasis is placed on publishing pieces on ethics in places that are widely read by those in the ICT industry (eg, the Australian, Age and SMH, Computerworld); that ACS target management of organisations, particular large ones, to raise the profile of the industry as a profession; as a high priority address the issue of why there is so little interest in being considered a professional.

In most professions, and in many trades, people must pass some accreditation procedure before they can practice. This is true not only for doctors and lawyers but also for plumbers and electricians. But it is not true for ICT professionals. Common objections given by others to some form of licensing or accreditation by professional bodies are not compelling and further research is needed in this area. We recognize that there are current efforts in this direction in pursuing this issue and recommend that these efforts continue and indeed be expanded.

Areas of Long Term Interest

While the areas of immediate interest are important and need to be addressed now there are further areas that also need attention to ensure the long term and continuous improvement in the ethical thinking, decision-making, and behaviour of ICT professionals. However these areas will take considerably longer to put into effect.

These are:

  • implementing ethics management systems,
  • Constructing EMS software, and
  • tailoring codes.

Ongoing Research

While there are some things that can be started straightaway, there are others which require further research before it can be decided what is to be done next in the program of increasing ethical thinking, decision making, and behaviour in ICT.

The areas identified for ongoing research are:

  • the state of the industry,
  • ethical regulations,
  • technical and ethical tertiary education,
  • the differing generations that make up the ICT workforce, and
    international comparisons.

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