Got ethics?

Spend long enough in a cooperative organisation and you are bound to land yourself in the sticky situation whethical_eating_narrowweb__300x435,0ere you are confronted with an ethical dilemma. The thing about ethical dilemmas is there is hardly ever a right or a wrong solution. The solution usually depends on the perspectives of the people involved making the decisions and they are the ones having to live with those decisions.

Too often people find themselves in these scenarios, without being prepared or having the skills to make ethical decisions. Ethical tools can help to navigate one’s way through these difficult decisions while minimizing harm. Boards and other groups whom are likely to be challenged with an ethical dilemma at some point, would be wise to ensure they have an ethical strategy in their tool box that can be used when the need arises.

Felicity Haynes (University of Queensland) suggests a three-step approach, in the form of reflective questions, for dealing with ethical decision-making dilemmas. Her questions emerge from her work as a moral philosopher:

  1. What are the consequences, both short and long term for others, and me, and do the benefits of any possible action outweigh the harmful effects?
  2. Are all the agents in this situation being consistent with their own past actions and beliefs? That is, are they acting according to an ethical principle/ethical principles which they would be willing to apply in any other similar situation? Are they ‘doing to others as they would they should do unto them’?
  3. Are all the agents in this situation responding to the needs of others as human beings? Do they care about other people in this particular situation as persons with feelings like themselves? Are they attentive to others?

Haynes, F. (1998). The ethical school. Educational Management Series. Routledge March. ISBN: 0415141850.


Decisions, decisions, decisions

Making a decision about early childhood options for your child can be daunting. So many services to choose from, so many opinions about what’s best. Using a  decision matrix can help to make that choice just a little easier.

With a decision matrix you use a table set up with each criterion given a weight depending on its importance in the decision and with each alternative given a ranking for that criterion. Confused yet? It’s not that complicated really and once  you’ve mastered this tool, you will find it can be helpful in making many future decisions.

To help explain the process, I will talk you through it step by step.

First thing to do is to decide what criteria is important to you in choosing a service for your child. These criteria will be unique to you. Let’s say we have a parent, Molly, who is trying to make a decision whether to keep her three-year old Sarah at Playcentre or use a different service. She discussed it with her partner and together they decided that the following criteria is most important to them in making this decision:

  • Children of the same age
  • Community relationships
  • Provide care options
  • Provide structured learning time
  • Parent involvement
  • Low adult to child ratios
  • Health and safety
  • Emotional well-being

Not all these criteria has equal importance to Molly, so the next step is to weight them according to importance to her. Using a scale to weight the criteria helps to make more consistent judgments:

  • 1-2: Not at all important
  • 3-4: Not too important
  • 5-6: Somewhat important
  • 7-8: Quite important
  • 9: Really important
  • 10: Deal breaker

Molly weighted her criteria as follows

  • Children of the same age  [currently there are only a few children at Sarah’s Playcentre in her age group; weight = 6]
  • Community relationships  [building relationships with other in their own community; weight = 8]
  • Provide care options  [it’s not that important right now, but might be more important in six months when Molly is expecting a second baby; weight = 5]
  • Provide structured learning time  [not sure that it’s that important to them, but Molly’s mother feels Sarah needs more structured learning experiences; weight = 5]
  • Parent involvement  [both Molly and her partner likes being actively involved in their child’s education; weight = 8]
  • Low adult to child ratios [ratios are important to them as Sarah tends to thrive in close relationships; weight = 9]
  • Health and safety [a definite deal breaker; weight = 10]
  • Emotional well-being [another deal breaker; weight = 10]

Once  she has weighted her criteria, the next step involved visiting the centres she is considering, talking to other parents and staff, observing children at the centre and finally scoring the centres on each of the criteria. Once again using a scale for your rankings will help you to make more consistent judgments.

  • 1-2: Not at all
  • 3-4: Not really
  • 5-6: It’s okay
  • 7-8: Looking good
  • 9: Loving it
  • 10: Perfection!

Once she has scored the centres, it’s time for some basic arithmetic:

  1. multiply the centre score with the criteria weighting
  2. add the weighted scores up

and  you can see which provider will best meet you and your child’s needs. Easy as 1-2-3.

See an example of Molly’s criteria, weighted decision.

See the Ministry of Education in choosing an early childhood education service for your child.