During my service as a county commissioner, I was confronted with decisions that demanded ethical scrutiny. If you serve in any capacity of local government, elected, appointed, hired, or volunteer, you surely face similar decisions. As a trainer at Strategic Government Resources, I developed the following template entitled “The HEART Ethical Decision Making Process” to help public servants navigate those decisions.
When processing a decision, ask the following questions:
Is the decision Honest?
• Is my decision legal and ethical?
• Do I have to “cover my tracks” in any way?
• Do I feel the need to “sugar coat” my answers?
• Does my decision treat all parties affected by the decision equally?
Is the decision Ethically aligned with my organization’s Code of Ethics?
• Am I able to make this decision without compromising my organization’s code of ethics?
• Do I have to “stretch the truth” in order to make it work?
• Can I direct someone to policy or precedent that reinforces my decision?
Is the decision Appropriate as a solution or response?
• Is there a more suitable solution?
• Have I consulted with others?
• Am I being objective?
• Would I consider the response appropriate if I were in the same situation as others affected by the decision?
• I may have two or more right decisions. Which one will most likely gain public trust?
Am I willing to take Responsibility for the decision?
• If asked, would I be able to say with confidence the decision was mine?
• Am I considering a “scapegoat” in case the decision is not popular?
• Am I confident the decision enhances the reputation of my organization?
Is the decision Transparent?
• Am I willing to share the decision openly?
• Do I feel the need to include phrases like, “Please don’t tell anyone,” or “I hope I don’t get caught!”?
• Is the decision likely to build the public’s trust?
The list above is certainly not exhaustive. We welcome your comments and observations. If you incorporate the process into your code of ethics or ethics training, please let us know.