Ethics in engagement is vital. We need ethics to keep the process open, honest, inclusive, far-reaching, respectful, fair, collaborative, and informative.

Without ethics, people lose faith in the engagement process, they don’t trust it, they feel used, marginalised, unheard and irrelevant.

Ethics protects both the organisation and participants. It ensures that what we are doing has merit, and that people feel safe in the environment and manner in which they are providing feedback.

Our reasons for engaging need to serve more than our own self-interests. The engagement process needs to consider the needs of everyone involved, and not marginalise the more vulnerable groups.

If we are engaging because we feel we have to, that’s an immediate red flag. We need to engage because it will inform the decision-making process, or build a sense of ownership, or gather consensus on a topic or decision.

There are many considerations when incorporating ethics into engagement. The following is a selection of tips that will help put you on the right track:

  1. Ensure the engagement doesn’t only benefit your organisation, consider how it benefits the whole community
  2. Make sure people aren’t obliged or coerced to engage, give them choice and freedom to express themselves
  3. Have a truthful and transparent approach
  4. Don’t act one way simply because some voices are bigger than others
  5. Give the engagement purpose, it shouldn’t just tick a box or meet a requirement
  6. Follow the rules – for example seeking parental consent for young people, or asking people to keep information they are privy to confidential
  7. Protect people when they have their say, no-one should feel uneasy or threatened
  8. Keep to your promises – if you say you’ll do something, do it
  9. Use information for the purposes it was gathered for

Remember that ethics crosses everything we do, so it’s a good idea to cross check throughout the project.

If you’re ever unsure, seek external advice. There are plenty of precedents where projects have got it right, and wrong.