Flexing your ethical muscles

Ethical decision-making, like any skill, can benefit from training and practice. But in contrast to data analysis, report-writing or public speaking skills, you might not get frequent opportunities to face juicy ethical dilemmas in your day-to-day work. With a combination of materials available in the Actuaries Institute’s CPD Knowledge Hub, and a facilitation process known as a ’Community of Inquiry‘, you can organise some ethical exercise for you and your colleagues with ease!

As actuaries, we are all aware of the importance of ethical behaviour. We are reminded of this because we discuss the impact of ethics on our work as part of our professional training, we annually attest to our compliance with the Code of Conduct, and because the consequences of poor ethical decisions are often played out in the media.

Ethical decision-making, like any skill, can benefit from training and practice. But in contrast to data analysis, report-writing or public speaking skills, you might not get frequent opportunities to face juicy ethical dilemmas in your day-to-day work (and that is probably a good thing). So how can you flex your ethical muscles and get some practice in assessing and dealing with a challenging ethical situation?

The good news is that you don’t need to wait for a formal training program or an Actuaries Institute event to achieve this. You also don’t need to wait for your manager to propose any training. With a combination of materials available in the CPD Knowledge Hub, and a facilitation process known as a ’Community of Inquiry‘, you can organise some ethical exercise for you and your colleagues with ease!

What is a ’Community of Inquiry’?

A Community of Inquiry is a form of group discussion that has been developed by philosophers to facilitate inquiry into ethical and philosophical concepts. It is characterised by a few key principles:

  • Inquiry into philosophical issues is best done in a group setting, rather than alone. This brings alternative points of view and different information into our thinking as we consider these issues.

  • There does not need to be a ’right answer‘ or single conclusion resulting from the discussion in a Community of Inquiry. The process is designed to elicit alternate viewpoints, challenge underlying assumptions and gradually define the key principles behind the issue being discussed.

  • The role of the facilitator is to model the process of inquiry, by exploring the reasons behind a point of view, probing potential inconsistencies in an argument and inviting counterpoints.

This approach has been specifically applied by philosophers such as Matthew Lipman in educational settings with children in order to improve their ethical thinking. In New South Wales, this approach is the basis of the Primary Ethics curriculum taught by volunteers to primary school students as young as five years old.

We can just as easily apply this approach in our workplace, to create discussion forums for our professional colleagues in which we can explore challenging ethical scenarios in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

Running an ethics discussion group

How easy is it to set up and run your own discussion group on professional ethics? Very easy! Below is a simple guide on how you can organise and run an ethics discussion group in a few steps:

  1. Choose how large a group you want to include in the session. With a smaller number of people (say 4-10) the issue can be discussed in a single group. For larger numbers, you might need the ability to divide up into sub-groups to discuss each dilemma.

  2. Choose how long a session you’d like to run – 1-2 hours is often sufficient for a good discussion, and will allow you to cover 1-3 scenarios.

  3. Selection of appropriate, relevant scenarios has been made straightforward by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) in the UK. The IFoA produces a range of videos depicting professional and ethical dilemmas each year, and the Institute has made these Professional Skills videos available in the CPD Knowledge Hub to use in your session. These videos are a great resource for presenting an ethical or professional dilemma as a basis for further discussion and debate. You might wish to review several to find those that would be most suitable in your workplace.

  4. Prepare a few ‘prompt’ questions to pose after each video, to drive discussion amongst your group. The questions will depend on the scenario, but might seek thoughts on, for example, what could be done in response to the scenario, how things could have been managed differently or who is at fault in the situation.

  5. Prepare a short introduction to set the scene for your discussion. This might include reflecting on recent ethical failures (in your industry or in others), and reminding people of their professional obligations under the Code of Conduct. The introduction should also include reminders about the expectations for behaviour in a ‘community of inquiry’.

  6. After showing each video, ask the group for their thoughts based on the prompt questions, or indeed on any other matter that might be relevant from the scenario. In larger groups, you might need to give time for individual discussion in smaller groups before coming back and sharing thoughts more widely.

  7. Remember that your role as facilitator is not to know the answers or judge the responses. Instead, try to elicit further information about people’s perspectives, or draw out alternative points of view. Approaches you can use include:
    • Ask for someone’s reasons behind their point of view.

    • Ask if anyone disagrees with a point of view, or wishes to provide a counterpoint.

    • Point out potential areas of conflict between different approaches, and ask how this conflict might be managed.

    • Ask someone if their view would remain the same if a particular aspect of the scenario was slightly changed.

There may be some valuable side benefits for you and your colleagues in undertaking such an exercise: practising facilitation and listening skills; better understanding of your colleagues gleaned from their different perspectives; and heightening awareness of potential conduct risks in your organisation. Not only will you have provided your team or colleagues with some valuable ethical training, but you will also have helped them (and you) obtain some of the five compulsory CPD points in professionalism training that is required each year.

The Institute has just released a number of new Professional Skills videos from the IFoA, which can be easily accessed by:

  • Following this link to the Professional Skills Page on the Institute’s website.

  • Search the CPD Knowledge Hub for ‘IFoA Professionalism Skills’.

  • An email sent to members on 23 September 2021 with links to the videos.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.

Comments

Image of Iain Bulcraig
Iain Bulcraig says

12 October 2021

Hi Stuart. Thanks for the article and I agree with your comments above. I have watched a couple of the videos this year already (to get my CPD points!) and they were better than my expectations - in the past these have felt too "staged" but seem to improved in the last couple of years. However, I much prefer the idea of debating with other people to get different views so this can be the plan for next year, hopefully in person. Thanks again. Iain


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