Canadian IT industry group plans ethics exam

The Canadian Information Processing Society is in the beginning stages of forming an ethics exam that will be made available to its members early next year, and released to the IT public for a fee.

Bob Fabian, chair of the CIPS ethics committee, said the issue of ethics is becoming more and more visible in our post-Enron, post-WorldCom, post-Conrad Black world, as it “rais(es) in a lot of people’s minds, what constitutes ethical behaviour?” he said. “More and more large enterprises are insisting that their employees take regular ethics review courses and pass exams.”

Fabian said that ethics are comprised of three parts, including recognizing an ethical question, making reasonable ethical decisions, and being prepared to follow through on those decisions; the CIPS ethics exam will concentrate on the ability to make reasonable ethical decisions.

The exam could be used in tandem with the CIPS Code of Ethics. In an effort to enforce a more ethical culture, employees could sign a copy of the code and be regularly tested.

Those who did something against the Code could undergo a CIPS-provided review process; those who failed would be stripped of their CIPS membership, and this information published on the CIPS Web site.

The exam itself will be composed of approximately 25 questions, generated randomly from about 50 to 100 standard questions. Within about five possible answers will be a base-mark of three answers, including the right thing to do, the wrong thing to do, and the answer that lies somewhere in the middle. The grading system will probably be based upon a system that makes it mandatory to get at least a few “right thing” answers, and no more than a couple “wrong thing” answers.

For example, a question on copying software might include questions about the appropriate amount of back-up copies, giving copies to friends and family, or posting it on the Web.

Another hot-button issue is about online communities—such as Facebook, online forums, or wikis—and how much monitoring of them is ethical. Embedded facial recognition technology that people are unaware of or RFID technology would also call into play ethical issues that will be addressed in the exam. It will also cover areas like accepting gifts, confidentiality, digital rights, e-mail rights, personal information, and spam.

The final questions and weighting system will be decided upon by a task force of CIPS members. They plan to target the exam first at individuals (say, those who want to brush up on the issues at stake in the IT field today, or include a good score with their resume during the job application process), then later small businesses who might not be able to afford to generate an ethics training or review process on their own.

No. 1 reason

This concentration on ethics continues what might be a trend. Earlier this month, Edmonton-based David Aplin Recruiting released a survey about why people leave their job. Respondents in all eight professional sectors said that “being asked to do something unethical” was the No. 1 reason. This was a new, according to vice-president Mike Corbett. Their second-most popular reason to leave a position was “realizing you are underpaid compared to others doing the same job.”

Fabian said he was surprised ethics came up so high in the results. “It may have to do with the next generation. These people want meaning (in their careers), now that security is no longer on the table,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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