Ethics and Partnerships – Ethics Issues and Potential Partners Part 2

The first part of this Help Sheet looked at some of the ethical issues that could come up when community groups or businesses began searching for a community business partner.

This section of the Help Sheet examines some of the ways these types of ethics issues can be examined or addressed either before you enter into a partnership, or as you approach your chosen partner.

Follow the Steps

Basically, identifying any possible ethical issues that may arise with a potential partner early in the process goes most of the way towards ultimately solving the problem.

This allows both potential partners time to examine the issue and come up with ways to deal with it quickly. Also, if the issue is too hard to overcome or not able to be solved easily, both business and community group can walk away and seek other partners before they even get involved … let alone reach a point of no return.

By following the steps outlined in Help Sheets including:
a community group or business will examine many of the areas where potential ethical problems might crop up.

Some of those steps include:
  • Know yourself –your group's or business' goals, aims and values – and which potential partners could share those things
  • Learn about your potential partner – their goals and what they aim for.
  • Talk as a group among either group members or staff and canvas their thoughts about partnering a certain group or business.
  • Develop a proper (preferably written) agreement with your potential partner.
  • Make sure you know what you want the partnership to achieve, and the roles each partner would play to help those goals happen.

If Any Problems Arise

If – either by progressing through these steps, or by other methods – it becomes clear that there is an ethical issue in choosing your partner that has to be overcome, then it has to be addressed.

It is no use hiding it or ignoring it, hoping it will go away. The fact is, the problem is instead more than likely to grow and become harder to solve.
As a group or whole-of-business, there are a few steps you can take when considering issues like these.
  • Know yourselves and what you do.
    • If you know your values and what you stand for, it will be easier to spot something that conflicts with them and may pose an ethical dilemma.
  • If you have doubts, or become aware of doubts, they need to be voiced.
    • Don't ignore any genuinely-held doubts – instead, speak up early and clearly so if there is an issue it can be addressed.
  • Discuss the issue as a group or business.
    • If there is an approach or option that comes up that could involve ethical dilemmas or questions, talk as a group on the matter.
  • Make sure any decision is a group or "whole-of-business" decision.
    • Ensure you are all agreed that the decision you are making is the right one. Hold a meeting of group members, committee or staff and go through ALL the issues before "jumping" one way or the other. And generally speaking, if you have any doubts as a group that a prospective partnership might cause ethical dilemmas down the track, don't do it.

From an individual point of view, there are a couple of other elements to keep in mind:
  • Try not to let your individual emotions or opinions overtake those of the group.
    • Certainly you as an individual might have an ethical problem with your group or business forming a partnership with a body that you have problems with. But if your group or business disagrees and decides to go ahead with the opportunity, then that's the way it is going to be.
    • If you are in a community organisation, there is always the option of resigning in protest, or leaving the group – especially if by taking up the contentious partnership opportunity, the group no longer reflects your individual values.
  • Stay cool.
    • If an issue like this comes up, it can be very easy to get very emotional very quickly. A level-headed discussion needs to be held where all points are put forward and discussed.
    • This is where a formal (or semi-formal) Charter or Code of Ethics could come in handy as something to refer to and or base decisions on.

A Charter or Code

A Charter or Code of Ethics is a way for community organisations in particular to have a document that helps guide its behaviour and can be referred to when decisions that involve ethical issues are being made.

There are a number of sites on the Internet that have tips on putting together such a document – but it doesn't necessarily have to be overly formal or lengthy – maybe it can just be a set of guiding principles to work by.

Another resource that can help a community group or organisation learn more about ethics and assemble a set of ethics guidelines is the publication Ethical Solutions published by Our Community and available from the Marketplace section of the Our Community website

One key rule to remember when developing such a code or set of principles is to involve all relevant stakeholders.

For more information on developing a code of ethics is contained in the helpsheet Ethics and Community Business Partnerships: Ethics Within Partnerships and Developing a Code of Ethics, which is available at the Community Business Partnerships Brokerage Service at the Our Community website.