Our Ethical Decision-Making Framework
Making ethical decisions
Our Ethical Decision-Making Framework (EDMF) for Communications explains how to make ethical decisions when creating and publishing communications content. It uses a framework of structured discussions at ethically important moments during the storytelling process, with the aim of creating focused discussions that improve practice. It also aims to reduce risks associated with storytelling and protect contributors.
Ethical decisions can be very complex. When a situation has no clear ‘right and wrong’ answer, decision making can be difficult. Even more difficult is making ethical decisions when affected by unconscious biases. And everyone holds unconscious biases.
More than one set of cultural norms and organisational values can equally apply to an issue, even if those norms and values are conflicting. This makes decisions difficult, as individuals and teams are forced to choose.
This EDMF sets out important questions and explains when these questions ought to be asked throughout the storytelling process. It also explains who is responsible for having these discussions and what to do if a decision can’t be made.
Ambiguity and uncertainty are part of any ethical decision-making framework, and we encourage exploration of ethically grey areas. Indeed, this exploration is the most important part of the process. Our discussions help us to reach further outward, toward a fuller understanding of our contributors’ lives and contexts – and also of our own unconscious biases, norms and ways of working.
This section contains an overview of your organisation’s risk assessment and explains how to apply it in your EDMF. The below is an example – yours should include detail specific to your organisation and refer to particular channels and audiences, depending on your organisation’s operations.
In developing this EDMF, [organisation name] has considered the risks associated with all its communications activities and how they might impact on:
- Contributors and the communities in which we work
- Staff and volunteers across the organisation
- Governing body
- Our partners and contractors
- Supporters and the general public
- Overall activities of [organisation name]
- The reputation of [organisation name] and other ACFID members
The following on-going risks have been identified:
- [insert risks]
A more comprehensive communications risk log is updated as part of quarterly communications meetings and can be accessed here [link to relevant document].
This EDMF will be used to guide decision making across the organisation to help mitigate some of the risks mentioned above. It will be shared with partners who are involved in sourcing content for our communications materials, and training will be supplied where appropriate.
In addition, all of [Organisation name]’s communications activities related to humanitarian emergencies are considered high-risk and will therefore be subject to additional procedures outlined in the [Humanitarian Emergencies communications guidelines].
Who’s talking to whom?
While all staff, volunteers and members are responsible for ensuring our communications are ethical, lawful and protect contributors, some staff members will need to be involved in specific conversations as part of our EDMF. The staff involved in EDMF discussions are [list those positions as relevant to your organisation]:
Content gatherers: Including communications specialists, multimedia producers, writers and media relations staff, and their managers.
Programs: Including program staff and managers.
Child safeguarding: Including child safeguarding advisors and focal points.
Marketing: Including digital, marketing, fundraising and events, and their managers.
Ethically important moments
This section outlines the ‘ethically important’ moments in your storytelling process – i.e. when your EDMF might be used. It should explain which issues to discuss at these moments, and who’s responsible for discussing them. More information about each of the issues can be found in the next section, Key Ethical Issues.
Remember – the following is an example only. It’s up to your organisation to decide who is involved at each point in time and how this process might be adapted for different pieces of communications.
While all ethical issues should be considered throughout the storytelling process, there are times when certain issues are more important. Below are seven ‘ethically important’ moments during the storytelling and publishing process, accompanied by key issues to discuss at those times and who’s responsible for the discussions.
1. When scoping a story
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
2. When planning to gather content
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
3. While gathering content
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
4. Directly after gathering content
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
5. While creating the storytelling content
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
6. When publishing a story
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
7. After publishing a story
ISSUES TO DISCUSS:
Key ethical issues
1. Connection to values
[Organisation name’s] values
- [insert questions directly related to how your organisation’s values affect your storytelling processes]
- Have we put the best interests of the contributor first?
- Have we ensured we ‘do no harm’ to the contributor during the storytelling process?
- Have we treated the contributor with dignity and fairness?
- Have we respected the personal freedom and privacy of the contributor?
- Have we encouraged the contributor to freely express their thoughts and feelings?
- Have we given the contributor control over how their identity and thoughts are portrayed in their story?
- Have we ensured the content is accurate?
- Have we ensured the best interest of children have been put before the interests of adults and our organisation?
- Have we adequately protected children?
- Have we respected children’s rights to dignity and fairness?
- Have we attempted to reduce stereotyping of children?
- Have we treated all children equally?
- Have we carefully considered how women are portrayed?
- Have we considered how sex-role stereotyping is portrayed?
- Have we given voice to women?
- Are we empowering girls and women through this story?
- Have we considered the unique protection needs of women in this story?
- Have we given people with disabilities the opportunity to contribute to this story?
- Have we considered how ableism has affected this story?
- Have we carefully considered how people with a disability are portrayed?
- When published, will this story be accessible to people with disabilities?
- Have we respected indigenous people’s rights to dignity and fairness?
- Have we given indigenous people the ability to freely express themselves, through their own culture and language?
- Have we considered how racism has affected this story?
- Have we carefully considered how indigenous people are portrayed?
- Have we given indigenous people control over how their identity and thoughts are portrayed in their story?
Protection of life
- Could the contributor’s life be put at risk by sharing their story?
- Do we know enough about the contributor’s history to make a confident assessment of their safety?
Protection of health
- Could the contributor’s health be put at risk by sharing their story?
- Could the contributor risk being cut off from important services by sharing their story?
Protection of dignity
- Could we be putting the contributor or their community at risk of vilification or retribution by sharing their story?
- Have we considered how the contributor’s family, friends and community might feel about the storytelling project?
3. Informed consent
[Organisation name’s] informed consent process is clearly defined in [policy name]. All staff and stakeholders must follow this process. There are no exceptions. However, there are also context-specific issues that arise in relation to informed consent. Our discussions should ask:
- Have we provided all the necessary information to the contributor so they can decide whether to consent to participate?
- Have we shown the contributor appropriate examples of how their story might be used (including where it may be published and who will see it)?
- Have we explained different ways the contributor’s identity can be revealed and concealed?
- Have we consulted with the right people (including children’s guardians and community elders)?
- Does the contributor fully understand the risks and opportunities associated with sharing and publishing their image and story with our organisation?
- Have we given the contributor enough advance notice about the project so they have time to consider the risks and opportunities?
- Have we explained the storytelling process in a way the contributor fully understands (including children), using the best-possible language?
- Is there a single point of contact for the contributor to discuss the project and any consent issues? Is it easy for the contributor to discuss the project with us?
- Is there a power imbalance between the contributor and the organisation?
- If there is a power imbalance, can you describe it?
- If there is a power imbalance, how can we reduce it?
- Is there an element of duress in the contributor’s consent?
- If there is an element of duress, how can we address it?
- How can we ensure the contributor can say ‘no’ to being involved in the storytelling project?
- How can we ensure the contributor can withdraw their consent at any time?
- Have we adequately protected the privacy of the contributor?
- Have we discussed how the contributor’s story may expose them to the public?
- If appropriate, have we adequately concealed the name, location and visual identity of the contributor?
- Have we safely and securely stored the contributor’s personal information?
- Does the contributor understand how their personal information is stored and used?
Access to information
- Who has access to the contributor’s information and are they aware of who can access it?
- Have we explained how the contributor can access their personal information, make amendments to their story and withdraw consent?
5. Authorship and ownership
- How will contributors and content creators be acknowledged when publishing their stories?
- Does acknowledgement of authorship have implications for the privacy, anonymity or confidentiality assurances given to contributors?
- What ethical obligations do contributors and content creators have to the truthful representation of stories and data?
- Who owns the copyright of our storytelling content?
- Are there any conflicting copyright claims for storytelling materials we’ve published (or seek to publish)?
- How do we ensure contributors and content creators understand their legal rights?
6. Fuzzy boundaries
We understand the storytelling process is built on relationships, and sometimes the network of relationships is complex. We acknowledge that relational boundaries between contributors, content collectors, program staff and others can become blurred. In addition, the stories they create may be used to serve multiple purposes, such as fundraising, advocacy, and community engagement. This blurring of roles and purposes is referred to as ‘fuzzy boundaries’.
We acknowledge there is the potential for the content-collector role to become blurred in storytelling processes that involve building rapport with contributors. We also acknowledge that this potential is intensified in storytelling projects where content collectors spend significant periods of time engaged in fieldwork. Our discussions should ask:
- How should we develop a relationship with the contributor?
- Should we explore how our unconscious biases affects this project? How might we change the storytelling process as a result of exploring our unconscious biases?
- What are the moral responsibilities that fall directly on the content collector?
Other people’s responsibilities
- What are the different roles of those involved in the storytelling project?
- Does everyone in the project understand their role and others’ expectations of them?
- How do different people involved in the project see the purpose of the storytelling project? If there are different perspectives, how do we manage any conflicts?
- How do we respect the personal relationships (and possible friendships) developed during the project?
- How do we respond to any blurred roles and relationships during the course of the project?
- What impacts do blurred roles have on the ethical conduct of the project?
- Can content collectors, contributors or others become personally over-invested?
A few golden rules
During the entire storytelling and publishing process, keep these three questions in mind:
- If I share this story, will this person be safe?
- If I share this story, will this person be empowered?
- If I share this story, will this person feel respected – by themselves and others?
Who to talk to if you’re still unsure
Making decisions about some of these issues can be difficult. There may be times when you or your team are still unsure whether an image, story or information should be used even after discussing the key issues and reviewing other policies and guidelines. If you have discussed the questions outlined above and need more information to make a decision:
Contact the following people:
- Child safeguarding: [insert contact details]
- Protecting identities:
- Authorship and ownership:
- Privacy requirements:
- [insert others as required]
If you have discussed the questions outlined above, have all the relevant information, but have not come to a decision, bring it to the attention of your manager.
The final decision on all communications materials lies with the CEO.