Application of the CPA Code of Ethics in Planning Field Research: An Organizational Case (Canadian Psychological Assn)

Article excerpt


Canadian psychologists have a new code of ethics. Demonstrations of the code's use have thus far have concentrated on its application in traditional areas. The present paper demonstrates its proactive use in planning field research by delineating the ethical implications of a research example drawn from the organizational psychology literature. Specifically, I argue that the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists provides a useful method for planning ethically sound field research. It is further shown that the decision - making process advocated by the CPA code of ethics is an effective means of identifying issues that would otherwise be neglected. Implications of the code for Canadian Industrial and Organizational psychologists are briefly discussed.

In 1986, the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) adopted its own code of ethics. The new code replaces previous adaptations of the ethical code from the American Psychological Association (APA) (Sinclair, Poizner, Gilmour - Barrett & Randall, 1987). The development of a Canadian code was, in part, spurred on by a growing interest among Canadian psychologists in developing a Canadian ethical code that would address uniquely Canadian issues and concerns (Sinclair, et al., 1987).

The CPA code of ethics is still in its infancy; thus, many avenues remain to be explored. According to Sinclair and her colleagues (1987), the CPA code should be conceived of as, "... an umbrella document that can be used as a guide to the development of more specific standards for particular areas of practice in Canadian psychology... ". This paper is intended to encourage progress in these areas. Specifically, I will demonstrate how the CPA code can be applied to issues in field research by using an ethical dilemma drawn from the organizational literature. To emphasize the uniqueness of the Canadian ethical code, the example chosen is one that has already been considered from the perspective of the APA code of ethics. I hope that this example will benefit both those individuals engaging in field research more generally, as well as those working closely with organizations, such as industrial/organizational (I/O) and social psychologists.

Given that my own background is in I/O psychology, the present article will adopt an organizational psychology flavour. This, however, should not be taken as indicating that the dilemma is purely organizational in nature, nor one that is typical of I/O psychology. Rather, it is simply one of the many dilemmas I/O psychologists could face, and is one shared with many other field researchers.

There are many possible scenarios that are unique to Applied Psychology, and the CPA code by no means answers all the questions. The code does, however, provide a solid foundation for further developments. The generic nature of the decision - making process advocated by the CPA code lends itself to most situations faced by psychologists, regardless of contextual factors.

Other psychologists have demonstrated the application of the CPA code in contexts such as clinical and counselling psychology (see Eberlein, 1988; Weinberger, 1988; CPA Companion Manual, 1988; Tymchuk, 1986), and have described value conflicts occurring in field research (O'Neill, 1990). Many discussions of the new Code have been tied to issues for which dilemmas were unavoidably at hand; hence, use of the code was "reactive" in nature - the psychologist has a situation at hand that must be dealt with immediately.

In the present paper, I shall explore how the CPA code can be used in a research setting in a "proactive" manner. Using the code proactively means that psychologists are using the code to delineate possible consequences to actions they have yet to execute. The decision - making process encourages researchers, first to identify potential consequences to various alternatives, and then to offer possible solutions for any ethical impasse. …


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