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Digital ethics collection | Article

Professional ethics

Authored by William Barker, Martin Ferguson

This page focuses on the key ethical codes for Local Public Service Senior Managers with the related professional codes of conducts for Technology, Statistical and Data Science professionals that work increasing encompasses the deployment of emerging technologies and data analytics across the local public sector.  Taken together they offer the basis for mapping and defining a set of supporting leadership approaches to compliment the wider digital ethics agenda.

Local public service senior managers: code of ethics

A consortium of professional bodies of senior managers (*see list below) across local public services have come together to develop a code of ethics for their members. The code is an overarching statement of ethics, based upon behaviours and therefore focus on the individual, as opposed to group or organisational culture.

The code draws from, and in most cases be consistent with, a number of existing resources, most significantly the Principles of Public Life, published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1995. A number of senior professionals within local public services will already be subject to specific professional codes of ethics and behaviour and this code does not replace these professional codes which are likely to be more detailed in nature.

* The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting, Lawyers in Local Government, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Public Sector People Managers’ Association, Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport, Association of Directors of Public Health, Association of Policing and Crime Chief Executives and Chief Fire Officers’ Association

Local public service senior managers: code of ethics – key principles

Selflessness: Senior managers should act solely in terms of the public interest.

  • Put the people you serve first
  • Advise wisely and implement faithfully
  • Ensure the need to speak truth to power, challenge impropriety or investigate wrongdoing comes before your own popularity or career prospects
  • Carry out your obligations and duties to the best of your ability and seek additional training or support where necessary.
  • Support your colleagues in their work
  • Demonstrate efficient and effective use of public resources
  • Consider the changing needs and expectations of local communities, and do what is necessary and proportionate to address them
  • Be faithful to your organisation’s purpose

Integrity: Senior managers should avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try to influence them inappropriately in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They should declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

  • Show courage in doing what you believe is right
  • Ensure decisions and actions are not influenced by improper considerations or personal gain
  • Neither solicit nor accept the offer of any gift, gratitude or hospitality that could, or be seen to, compromise your impartiality
  • Do not use your position to inappropriately coerce any person or settle personal grievances
  • Remain composed and respectful, even in the face of provocation
  • Ensure that any relationship at work does not create an actual or apparent conflict of interest
  • Take a personal responsibility to assess whether we have performed appropriately

Objectivity: Senior managers should act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best available evidence and without discrimination or bias.

  • Proactively seek evidence in advance of making decisions
  • Promote evidence-led decision making
  • Keep an open mind and do not prejudge situations or individuals
  • Be aware of the influence that unconscious biases can have on your actions
  • Use all information, training, equipment and management support you are provided with and take personal responsibly for your continuous professional development and keeping yourself up to date on your role and responsibilities
  • Actively seek or use opportunities to promote equalities and diversity and uphold the law regarding human rights and equalities
  • Ensure frameworks for decision making are robust, legal and sound
  • Ensure political decision-makers have access to balanced, accurate and well-informed advice, even when it is counter to the prevailing orthodoxy or when they do not want to receive it

Accountability: Senior managers are accountable for their decisions and actions and should submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

  • Take full responsibility for, and be prepared to explain and justify, your actions and decisions and those made within your span of responsibility to the public.
  • Encourage challenge and review of decision making to ensure that good practice is identified and lessons are learned.
  • Ensure the appropriate accurate records of your decisions and actions are kept
  • Safeguard confidential information and ensure the protection of personal data to comply with both FOI and Data Protection legislation

Openness: Senior managers should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so.

  • Share information with colleagues, partners, and the public when required for legitimate purposes and in a way that respects democratic decision making.
  • Ensure briefings are made available to all political groups and not just those in positions of power
  • Seek to create cultures that embrace learning, scrutiny and continuous improvement
  • Model a presumption of transparency
  • Share information in a manner that promotes accessibility

Honesty: Senior managers should act with sincerity and respect the need for truthfulness.

  • Do not knowingly make false, misleading or inaccurate oral or written statements
  • Ensure all communications seek to actively engage and inform the audience
  • Be mindful of wilful blindness and ensuring the appropriate checks and balances are in place which guard individuals and organisations
  • Be prepared to challenge and be challenged
  • Promote a culture that supports and encourages whistleblowing.

Leadership: Senior managers should exhibit in their own behaviour the ‘Principles of Public Life’ published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour, including by all those employed to deliver local public services and elected representatives wherever it occurs.

  • Step forward, take control and be proactive when required by the circumstances
  • Never ignore unethical or unprofessional behaviour by a colleague or elected member, irrespective of the person’s role
  • Proactively question the conduct of colleagues or elected members that you believe falls below the expected standards and, if necessary, challenge, report or take action against such conduct
  • Ensure your behaviour is not, and could not reasonably be perceived to be abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising or offensive by the public or your colleagues
  • Use your authority only in ways that are proportionate, lawful, respectful, accountable, necessary and ethical
  • Seek feedback on your behaviour and management style in order to actively pursue continuous professional development

Democracy: Senior managers should uphold the principles of a representative government and ensure the effective working of the democratic process.

  • Uphold the democratic process
  • Do not engage in party political promotion and ensure you do not place yourself in a position where your political impartiality may be reasonably questioned
  • Use your right and responsibility to voice your opinion on public issues but advocate for issues of personal interest only when doing so 

Technology professional codes of ethics

In the case of ICT professionals, the British Computer Society and International Association for Computing Machinery have codified similar core ethical values and approaches as follows:

British Computer Society Code of Conduct

As the UK professional body, the British Computer Society (known as BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT), has developed the follow Code of Conduct to direct the behaviour of its members professional matters and act as a guide for ICT operatives in general. The BSC Code of Conduct sets out the:

  • the professional standards required by BCS as a condition of membership.
  • applies to all members, irrespective of their membership grade, the role they fulfil, or the jurisdiction where they are employed or discharge their contractual obligations.
  • governs the conduct of the individual, not the nature of the business or ethics of any Relevant Authority

1. Public Interest You shall:

  • have due regard for public health, privacy, security and wellbeing of others and the environment.
  • have due regard for the legitimate rights of Third Parties.
  • conduct your professional activities without discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, marital status, nationality, colour, race, ethnic origin, religion, age or disability, or of any other condition or requirement
  • promote equal access to the benefits of IT and seek to promote the inclusion of all sectors in society wherever opportunities arise.

2. Professional Competence and Integrity You shall:

  • only undertake to do work or provide a service that is within your professional competence.
  • NOT claim any level of competence that you do not possess.
  • develop your professional knowledge, skills and competence on a continuing basis, maintaining awareness of technological developments, procedures, and standards that are relevant to your field.
  • ensure that you have the knowledge and understanding of Legislation* and that you comply with such Legislation, in carrying out your professional responsibilities.
  • respect and value alternative viewpoints and, seek, accept and offer honest criticisms of work.
  • avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious or negligent action or inaction.
  • reject and will not make any offer of bribery or unethical inducement.

3. Duty to Relevant Authority You shall:

  • carry out your professional responsibilities with due care and diligence in accordance with the Relevant Authority’s requirements whilst exercising your professional judgement at all times.
  • seek to avoid any situation that may give rise to a conflict of interest between you and your Relevant Authority.
  • accept professional responsibility for your work and for the work of colleagues who are defined in a given context as working under your supervision.
  • NOT disclose or authorise to be disclosed, or use for personal gain or to benefit a third party, confidential information except with the permission of your Relevant Authority, or as required by Legislation.
  • NOT misrepresent or withhold information on the performance of products, systems or services (unless lawfully bound by a duty of confidentiality not to disclose such information), or take advantage of the lack of relevant knowledge or inexperience of others.

4. Duty to the Profession You shall:

  • accept your personal duty to uphold the reputation of the profession and not take any action which could bring the profession into disrepute.
  • seek to improve professional standards through participation in their development, use and enforcement.
  • uphold the reputation and good standing of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.
  • act with integrity and respect in your professional relationships with all members of BCS and with members of other professions with whom you work in a professional capacity.
  • notify BCS if convicted of a criminal offence or upon becoming bankrupt or disqualified as a Company Director and in each case give details of the relevant jurisdiction.
  • encourage and support fellow members in their professional development.

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

Likewise, the US-based international Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct expresses the global conscience of the technology profession. The Code (see below) is designed to inspire and guide the ethical conduct of all computing professionals, including current and aspiring practitioners, instructors, students, influencers, and anyone who uses computing technology in an impactful way. Additionally, the Code serves as a basis for remediation when violations occur.

It includes principles formulated as statements of responsibility, based on the understanding that the public good is always the primary consideration. Each principle is supplemented by guidelines, which provide explanations to assist computing professionals in understanding and applying the principle.

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

General ethical principles:

A computing professional should…

  • Contribute to society and to human well-being, acknowledging that all people are stakeholders in computing.
  • Avoid harm.
  • Be honest and trustworthy.
  • Be fair and take action not to discriminate.
  • Respect the work required to produce new ideas, inventions, creative works, and computing artifacts.
  • Respect privacy.
  • Honour confidentiality.

Professional responsibilities:

A computing professional should…

  • Strive to achieve high quality in both the processes and products of professional work.
  • Maintain high standards of professional competence, conduct, and ethical practice.
  • Know and respect existing rules pertaining to professional work.
  • Accept and provide appropriate professional review.
  • Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks.
  • Perform work only in areas of competence.
  • Foster public awareness and understanding of computing, related technologies, and their consequences.
  • Access computing and communication resources only when authorized or when compelled by the public good.
  • Design and implement systems that are robustly and operationally secure.

Professional Leadership:

A computing professional, especially one acting as a leader, should…

  • Ensure that the public good is the central concern during all professional computing work.
  • Articulate, encourage acceptance of, and evaluate fulfilment of social responsibilities by members of the organization or group.
  • Manage personnel and resources to enhance the quality of working life.
  • Articulate, apply, and support policies and processes that reflect the principles of the Code.
  • Create opportunities for members of the organization or group to grow as professionals.
  • Use care when modifying or retiring systems.
  • Recognize and take special care of systems that become integrated into the infrastructure of society.

Statistics and data science professional codes of ethics  

In the case of Statistical and Data Science professionals, there are a number of emerging ethical codes and resources that can be adopted by data scientists working in the local sector as follows: –

UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Statistics

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) is an independent body at arm’s length from government, with the statutory objective of promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that ‘serve the public good’.

The UKSA Code of Practice for Statistics sets the standards that producers of official statistics should commit to. Compliance with the Code’s following three pillars (see below) ensures that published government statistics have public value, are high quality, and are produced by people and organisations that are trustworthy.

Pillar 1: Value: Statistics that support society’s needs for information

Value means that the statistics and data are useful, easy to access, remain relevant, and support understanding of important issues.

Value includes improving existing statistics and creating new ones through discussion and collaboration with stakeholders, and being responsible and efficient in the collection, sharing and use of statistical information. See links to supporting principles below:

V1: Relevance to users

V2: Accessibility

V3: Clarity and insight

V4: Innovation and improvement

V5: Efficiency and proportionality

Pillar 2: Quality: Data and methods that produce assured statistics

Quality means that statistics fit their intended uses, are based on appropriate data and methods, and are not materially misleading.

Quality requires skilled professional judgement about collecting, preparing, analysing and publishing statistics and data in ways that meet the needs of people who want to use the statistics. See links to supporting principles below:

Q1: Suitable data sources

Q2: Sound methods

Q3: Assured quality

Pillar 3: Trustworthiness: Confidence in the people and organisations that produce statistics and data

Trustworthiness is a product of the people, systems and processes within organisations that enable and support the production of statistics and data.

Trustworthiness comes from the organisation that produces statistics and data being well led, well managed and open, and the people who work there being impartial and skilled in what they do. See links to supporting principles below:

T1: Honesty and integrity

T2: Independent decision making and leadership

T3: Orderly release

T4: Transparent processes and management

T5: Professional capability

T6: Data governance

Royal Statistical Society– Professional Code of Conduct

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) is the UK’s established statistical society. It has three main roles: a British learned society for statistics, a professional body for statisticians and a charity which promotes statistics for the public good.

The RSS Code of Conduct – (Abbreviated version) outline the follow obligations to the Public, to their Employers and Clients, and to the Profession and the RSS: –

Act in the Public Interest

  • have an overriding responsibility to the public good; including public health, safety and environment.
  • have regard to basic human rights and avoid any actions that adversely affect such rights.

Fulfil their obligations to Employers and Clients

  • carry out work with due care and diligence in accordance with the requirements of the employer or
  • client.
  • respect any agreements of confidentiality entered into with an employer or client.
  • not allow their name to be attributed to work that they have either not contributed to or which
  • presents their contribution in a misleading way.

Fulfil their obligations to the Profession and the Society

  • uphold the reputation of the Profession and the Society
  • seek to advance knowledge and understanding of statistical science and advocate its use.
  • act with integrity towards fellow statisticians and to members of other professions with whom they
  • collaborate.
  • take personal responsibility for work bearing their name.

At all times show Professional Competence and Integrity

  • strive to act with honesty and integrity in all aspects of their professional life.
  • undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in accordance with the CPD Policy of the
  • Society.
  • seek to conform to recognised good practice.
  • report to the Society any criminal convictions against them in respect of violence, dishonesty or
  • professional misconduct; or upon becoming bankrupt or disqualified as Company Director.

Fellows may seek the support of the Society if they encounter situations which challenge their ability to act


Alongside this the RSS in partnership with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) have developed a set of core ethical values and approaches set out in their joint Ethical Data Science guide and supporting resources guide.

Wider resources

The UK  Data Ethics Framework guides appropriate and responsible data use in government and the wider public sector. It helps public servants understand ethical considerations, address these within their projects, and encourages responsible innovation.

Similarly, theOpen Data Institute Data Ethics Canvas helps identify and manage ethical issues – at the start of a project that uses data, and throughout. It encourages you to ask important questions about projects that use data, and reflect on the responses.

Both are aimed at anyone working directly or indirectly with data in the public sector, including data practitioners (statisticians, analysts and data scientists), policymakers, operational staff and those helping produce data-informed insight, to ensure the highest ethical standard of their projects.

Whilst the Oxford-Munich Code of Conduct for Professional Data Scientists is an online model ethical code that has been developed by Oxford University with academic and industry partners that provides resources and insights into the following aspects of ethical data science (see links below)