Framework for Ethical Decision-Making Version 9 for BC Land Surveyors


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Presented by: Michael McDonald, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia



  1. To create a greater awareness of ethical issues relevant to the work of members by highlighting the Association’s Code of Ethics and underlying principles of professional ethics.
  2. To underline the importance of professional ethics in the work of members
  3. To offer advice on specific ethical issues, especially those discussed in the



Some commonalities between the work of land surveyors and ethicists

  • Demarcating boundaries
  • Identifying obstacles and hazards
  • Mapping terrain
  • Serving the public interest
  • Acting in a trustworthy manner

A few words about ethics

  • Setting standards for all of us
  • Relation to law and custom
  • 4 key values
  • Reference to my ethical decision making framework that will be posted on-line


Surveying the current moral terrain for professionals

  • How are professionals and their associations regarded by the public?
  • Shift over time from blind trust in professionals to open scepticism and even cynicism
  • Areas of marginal behaviour – real estate agents, doctors serving pharma interests, instances of sexism, creative accounting,
  • All in an overheated media environment


What does ethical professional conduct require?

Key Characteristics of a Profession Specialized knowledge and expertise

  • Comment: Society expects professionals to act with both competence and integrity. One

without the other won’t do.

Provision of services that are socially valuable Organization and recognition as a profession Result: a social contract based on trust


Essential truths about trust

Trust lowers transaction costs

But trust also involves taking the risk that the trust won’t be fulfilled or even betrayed Trust lost is much harder to regain than it is to win in the first place.

  • Comments: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on
  • Trust requires special care on the part of the trusted party
  • Trust is more than a public relations problem. It is a matter of being trust-


What this means for professionals

Recognize the imbalance in power and knowledge between professionals and clients/society

Do not take unfair advantage Secure genuine informed consent

Look out for the best interests of trustors (clients and the public)


Focal issues Keyed to the BC Land Surveyors Code of Ethics

Operating within the public interest

  • Areas of concern: natural environment, safety, health and welfare (may use a case on sexism and workplace safety here drawn from a recent accounting presentation)
  • When does the public interest override the interests of clients, g. client confidentiality, environmental protection, and cadastre?

Maintaining competence and acting competently

  • For you as a professional, mentor, and potential contributor to knowledge growth in your area
  • Taking on work in your range of expertise and completing it in a timely way (potential scenario)

Retaining independence and objectivity

  • Threats and safeguards (drawing on my work in accounting ethics)


Relationships with colleagues

  • Respectful treatment
  • Observed breach of professional standards


Ethical management of conflicts of interests (COIs) and conflicts of commitments (COCs)

  • COI like using a faulty surveying instrument
  • COC trying to do one too many things at a time


Providing services provided in a competent and timely manner


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