Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the AICP Code of Ethics

Check out the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. It has a basic division between principles and rules, but I think the principles are the most interesting part. Principle 1 "Our Overall Responsibility to the Public" starts this way:
"Our primary obligation is to serve the public interest and we, therefore, owe our allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest that is formulated through continuous and open debate."
Under this heading we also find:
"b) We shall have special concern for the long-range consequences of present actions."
 Principle 2 is "Our Responsibility to Our Clients and Employers"
"We owe diligent, creative, and competent performance of the work we do in pursuit of our client or employer's interest. Such performance, however, shall always be consistent with our faithful service to the public interest."
Principle 3 is "Our Responsibility to Our Profession and Colleagues". Especially interesting here:
"b) We shall educate the public about planning issues and their relevance to our everyday lives."
One of the most thought-provoking concepts is the assertion of a primary obligation to a public interest that is not defined but instead "formulated through continuous and open debate". I like this insofar as it presupposes the necessity of debate about what is in the public interest, or perhaps whether or not a singular public interest even exists. Do developers and environmentalists, rich and poor, and so forth always have the same interests, despite the fact that we may think of them all as belonging to the "public"?

The special concern for the long-range consequences of our actions part resonates with me because I like to think about problems like climate change and how we are completely dropping the ball as a society when in comes to doing anything meaningful to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If I were an AICP certified planner, would I not have an obligation to say things like that?

Principle 2 is critical and it explicitly addresses a potential tension between the vaguely defined public interest in Principle 1 and the client/employer's interest. All I can say about this is that the client's interest would seem almost always more concrete, clearly-defined and relevant to the planner's financial well being than the public interest. Yet a duty to the public interest is still asserted. This is like saying you must, through debate, define the greater good, and balance it against your clients' interests when they are in conflict. This might be a good time to mention that:
"Section A contains a statement of aspirational principles that constitutes the ideals to which we are committed. We shall strive to act in accordance with our stated principles. However, an allegation that we have failed to achieve our aspirational principles cannot be the subject of a misconduct charge or be a cause for disciplinary action."
Finally, the part about educating the public about planning issues. I feel like that is what I have been trying to do with this blog, in addition to advocating my own concept of "public interest" if you will. It makes me happy and perhaps a bit less stressed to know that my writing here can reasonably be justified by the principles of the AICP Code of Ethics, and does not furthermore appear to violate any of the rules. In fact, without open public debate, it would be impossible either to attain a proper concept of the public interest or to educate the public about planning and its importance to peoples' day-to-day lives.

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