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  • Writer's pictureMartha Cox

Ethical Engagement - what does it look like?

Beginning your engagement and insights project with a conscious focus on ethical considerations will help you be aware of, and minimise, unintended consequences.

Planning stage

Here are some considerations to think about before you start and during the planning process:

Firstly, you need to be aware of the wider context you are working in and consider the following questions:

Which groups make up the local community?

Who are the key users of the service you are providing?

Who are the key colleagues you will be working with, both from within your organisation but also other local, regional or national partners?

What are the main local issues pertinent to the project you want to undertake?

Are there any historical contexts with relationships or previous consultations and collaborations that you need to bear in mind?

Secondly, be aware of the social identities, power and privilege that you and colleagues or partners might have and that of the community leaders that you will be working with.

Thirdly, consider what harms your project might cause? Many of these harms will be unintended but it’s really worth thinking through all possible consequences before you start and then you can make plans to mitigate harm as necessary.

Assess all of these before you embark on your engagement project and that will help you decide what methodologies to use.

It’s good practice, in order to ensure that you minimise unintended negative harms, to undertake an Equalities Impact Assessment (EqIA) before you start. This is a process designed to ensure that a policy or project, development or service does not unlawfully discriminate against people who are members of a protected category, as defined in the Equality Act 2010. EqIA’s are not required by law but are a way of facilitating and evidencing compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty. The duty aims to make sure public authorities think about things like discrimination and the needs of those experiencing disadvantage or inequality when they make decisions about how they provide their services and implement policies. EqIA’s are today also adopted by the third and private sectors to help a company, charity or organisation tackle inclusion. You can use the assessment to identify potential impacts on protected groups (both positive and negative) and look at how you can avoid disadvantage and further improve the delivery of your services. EqIA’s should be carried out at the beginning of your project for it to be a meaningful piece of work. If that isn’t possible then it should be completed at the earliest opportunity. There’s lots of information around online to help you complete one of these.

You could also consider running a Social Impact Assessment which involves analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programmes, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Again there’s lots of information online about these too.

Key principles underpinning ethical engagement:

  • Recognising the diversity, expertise and knowledge within the people and communities you are aiming to work with;

  • Respect for, and learning from, the individuals, communities and their resources, including how they might define themselves as a community, what the community values are and what that might mean to members of that community;

  • Equal partnerships with a focus on reciprocal relationships, transparency and accountability;

  • The answers can always be found within the community.

Review constantly

In order to ensure you are continually working in an ethical way you will need to put in place mechanisms to constantly review and update the methods you are using and the data you are collecting. Do this both within your organisation and also with partners and local communities:

  • Initiate regular meetings to review and monitor your data and processes and to analyse information coming from communities and those you are providing services to;

  • Triangulate your information with other findings from other departments, partners and communities;

  • Regularly update your responses and information shared with others. This is known as ‘closing the feedback loop.’

If you need assistance on how to engage ethically within your organisation then get in touch with me on 079143257971 or email


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