Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ethics and the listserv

A fascinating exchange took place on a listserv for nonprofits recently. Someone asked about the propriety of a consultant making a gift to a nonprofit for whom she/he had done contract work. Within a few posts, the discussion shifted to whether or not it was OK for a consultant to make (and a nonprofit to accept) a donation when the contract was still out for bid (sounds a bit like money in politics, eh?)

This led to a heated discussion - as a reader it became clear that the medium (listserv) was allowing dozens (and no doubt many more, including lurkers like me) to comment on something that they had never before had a venue to discuss. Clearly it was an issue that had many had faced. Lots of folks expressed dismay over the obvious conflict of interest in a consultant making a gift while also bidding on a project - and most of those commenting on this subject clearly had not had a chance to do so before. There were outright expressions of "Thank God, now I can talk about this with someone."

Others wrote in and pointed out some other sides to the coin, such as the fact that they (nonprofits) actively solicit former consultants for donations. They then look to those consultants for future work when it comes along - how to handle this relationship?

All of this strikes me in the following ways:
  • The value of communications technology in opening up important discussions
  • The importance of remembering what the original question was
  • The need for peer discussion that the internet enables
  • The slipperiness of old behaviors in a new world - for example, if a nonprofit actively employs social media to build an online community, and is looking for input, donations, and support from all possible constituents, how will it screen out conflicts of interest from potential vendors or slander from competitors?
What do you think? Have listservs, blogs, social networks, changed the way you get questions answered? Have they changed the nature of your professional network? Have they changed your ethics or conflict of interest policies?

Note: I don't know that its my place to "out" the discussants, or even the discussion forum, that I am discussing. Hence, I have chosen not to do so. What are the ethics of this?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I monitor and participate in several listservs and have found trhe access to information, the responsiveness of the participants and the open forum for meaningful discussion very helpful. Every now and then things meander into areas that seem inappropriate to the discussion but the community usually brings them back pretty quickly.
I've found the listservs to be a major benefit with almost instantaneous community.