Code of Ethics: a solid foundation for information professionals

Information professionals have the international ‘Code of Ethics’ – adopted by the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) in 2020. Member organisations can subscribe to that code, many have done that. International cooperation at its best, with participatory development, consultation, and joint decision-making. The code is a basis and guideline for methods, best practices, standards, and frameworks. The question is how this code can be deployed optimally, thus creating trust in the sector.

Code of Ethics: outcome of collaboration

IFIP’s Code of Ethics was made on the basis of good practices from various countries. An important example was the code of the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM, https://www.acm.org). Professionals from the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3, https://www.ipthree.org) within IFIP developed the code under the guidance of Prof Don Gotterbarn and Dr David Kreps, then chair of IFIP TC11. Through rounds of consultations, the code was created, with maximum attention to jointly working up a code from within the international professional body. This was then adopted at the IFIP General Assembly (see: https://www.ipthree.org/ifip-code-of-ethics/). IP3 will now use this code to make the current certification scheme of IT professionals suitable as an ISO standard with, among other things, e-CF and SFIA as content framework. SFIA is the benchmark framework for IP3 accreditation.

Working together and deploying ethics

World standards often emerge from a collaborative process. For instance, project and programme managers and PMO-ers know IPMA competences, IT architects know ArchiMate and Togaf. Standards that are created and updated with groups of professionals and academics.

ISO standards also come about through broad international alignment. An example is how fellow associations from South Africa (IITPSA), Canada (CIPS), Japan (IPSJ), Australia (ACS) and Sri Lanka (CSSL) and the Netherlands (KNVI) work together within IFIP on the new section within the ISO/IEC standard for ‘computing’: ISO/IEC 24773. This is under the leadership of initiator Dr Tetsuro Kakeshitamee. The new series already has new parts 1, 3 and 4, with part 2 coming in 2024. The overall process started in 2014 – including a lot of international coordination. Besides the ‘General Requirements’ (part 1) and ‘Guidance’ (part 2), parts 3 and 4 form the core of this standard: System Engineering and Software Engineering. A special feature of this new version is the focus on ethics and on knowledge, skills, competences, and professional practice.

Also topical is the joint effort for an Artificial Intelligence (AI) application guideline. In Europe, several organisations are working together in the Artificial Intelligence Skills Alliance (ARISA) project to gain knowledge of the application of AI in public and private applications. Through IPTE, European IT associations are also involved in this development. For the KNVI, securing ethical principles is an important issue in this too: Ethics as a Service should provide ethical help in the development, use and design of AI.

Finally, a Dutch example is the Dutch Practice Guideline NPR 3414:2023, Governance on the human aspects of IT. This standard is based on the academic work of a KNVI professional and was developed together with a group of practitioners. It allows directors of organisations to take better account of human aspects in the governance of their IT. Ethical conduct is also a key ingredient in this standard.

Standards: interpretation

When looking for standards for information management, information provision and information governance, you soon can’t see the wood for the trees. The KNVI Interest Group ‘Open Standards’ provides insight based on the nine-square model, drawn up by Prof dr Rik Maes (Maes, 2003). That model can be used for interpretation and coherence of various standards for business strategy, information strategy and information provision. The model is partly intended to promote cooperation and to discuss activities within organisations. The model provides tools to place standards and help the reader (or the searching professional) to ‘focus’. At https://openstandards.nl/, anyone can consult these standards.

Standards: a triptych

Delving into standards can be done from three angles: (a) the intention of the standard to formulate ethical principles, as described above, (b) the description of skills and (c) the elaboration of related competences.

Skills – the skills of professionals come at many levels. From being able to operate IT resources, making the right call or giving a presentation to the professional skills of the senior engineer who has knowledge and experience in writing the best (software) code, clear requirements, performing an integral chain test, implementing new (software) code on the mainframe, or managing and monitoring network traffic. Just to mention a few examples. These are skills that you can partly learn from books, but only really come to life in practice by applying them, reflecting on them, and improving them. You don’t learn to swim by reading swimming instructions. When skills are put to positive use in practice, this is then referred to as having competences. The International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO) of the European Union or the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) (see: https://sfia-online.org/) attempt to give a total overview of this.

Competences – Well known is the European Competence Framework (e-CF), now a CEN/NEN standard (see https://www.cencenelec.eu/areas-of-work/cen-sectors/digital-society-cen/ict-skills/). e-CF has become a standardisation environment for IT professionals with documents around the Body of Knowledge (BOK), roles, accreditations, education, and peer review. Now that it is a formal standard, this also provides more guidance for implementation. In the Netherlands, for example, by using the competences in the central government’s ICT hiring mantle, the central procurement of training courses and the translation of competences in the function description framework for civil servants.

Professional organisations in Europe play a supporting role in elaborating competences and putting their importance on the agenda. Recently, a first attempt at a European Digital Skills Certificate (EDSC) was made by the EU together with the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS), among others. At the basis of this is yet another framework: DigComp 2.2.

Professional Practice – keeping your craft up to date

The basic premise of competency frameworks is that it provides guidance for professionals to keep up with their profession, and develop their careers. However, the profession of information professionals is rather difficult to define from a single framework – especially as the scope of the profession is different in different countries. In the Netherlands, the IT profession and the profession of the (formerly) more generically trained documentalist, librarian and archivist are starting to overlap more and more on specific competences. As a result, the entire profession – and thus the set of competences – is becoming broader.

Skills and competences

With all these frameworks, we seem to have a solid foundation for our profession. But…there are still two snags. Points of attention.

The first is the commitment to Skills. The new European Digital Skills Certificate seems a nice addition to all competency frameworks and provides for a corresponding assessment. However, the framework addresses digital skills of citizens and of professional users of Information Technology products. But that is a bit like testing someone’s agility – and thus only one side of the coin. Think about many schoolchildren today: Very agile in using all kinds of devices, comfortable online, and quick to switch gears.  But judging whether information is correct, whether sources are accurate, whether they work safely and do not share confidential data, they must learn. The same applies to professionals. These professionals are also responsible for creating, managing, and implementing good IT.  This requires special (and increasingly specific) knowledge and experience. Multidisciplinary work requires brainpower and reflective capacity: continuous training, learning, reading, and practising to keep your profession up to date. And that is precisely the component on which the EU has little or no focus!

The second is the ethical interpretation of the work. After all, thinking skills and reflective capacity are not just about one’s own learning – or learning about learning (the ‘double loop’ – Argyris & Schön, 1978). The triptych of ethics, skills, and competences assumes third-order learning (Boonstra, 2000). Here, a frame of mind is further developed – including the ethical considerations made from that frame of mind.

Even in an international context, it is not always easy to get and keep these two points of interest high on the agenda. Perhaps because it is quite complicated to capture skills and competences in frameworks. Skills are ‘easy’. Describing professionalism is more difficult. And keeping your profession up to date and constantly examining, questioning, and even questioning the framework of thinking is a challenge!

Fortunately, the basics are good: competency frameworks like e-CF, SFIA and various ISO standards and especially the IFIP Code of Ethics. We still have a long way to go before the ICT profession is well defined and especially the skills and competences are described in such a way that everyone recognises them and continues to improve. But: we are on our way!

 

Authors: Wouter Bronsgeest – chairman KNVI; Liesbeth Ruoff-Van Welzen – Fellow KNVI / chairman Interest Group Digital Skills

 

Sources

  • Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1978). Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective. Addison-Wesley.
  • Boonstra, J. (2000). Lopen over water. Universiteit van Amsterdam.
  • Bronsgeest, W.L., De Waart, S., (2020). Smart Humanity, de mens met I-0 op voorsprong, Nubiz Uitgeverij, Hilversum
  • Maes, R. (2003). Informatiemanagement in kaart gebracht, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam
  • https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/docs/publication08.pdf
  • https://esco.ec.europa.eu/nl
  • https://www.cencenelec.eu/european-standardization/
  • https://www.cencenelec.eu/areas-of-work/cen-sectors/digital-society-cen/ict-skills/
  • https://standards.iteh.ai/catalog/tc/cen/566de01a-938d-4ed2-b502-c4bebf2a1cac/cen-tc-428

About moirad

Chair IP3 Vice President IFIP