Application of a sensemaking approach to ethics training in the physical sciences and engineering

Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (2):251-278 (2008)

Abstract

Integrity is a critical determinant of the effectiveness of research organizations in terms of producing high quality research and educating the new generation of scientists. A number of responsible conduct of research (RCR) training programs have been developed to address this growing organizational concern. However, in spite of a significant body of research in ethics training, it is still unknown which approach has the highest potential to enhance researchers’ integrity. One of the approaches showing some promise in improving researchers’ integrity has focused on the development of ethical decision-making skills. The current effort proposes a novel curriculum that focuses on broad metacognitive reasoning strategies researchers use when making sense of day-to-day social and professional practices that have ethical implications for the physical sciences and engineering. This sensemaking training has been implemented in a professional sample of scientists conducting research in electrical engineering, atmospheric and computer sciences at a large multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and multi-university research center. A pre-post design was used to assess training effectiveness using scenario-based ethical decision-making measures. The training resulted in enhanced ethical decision-making of researchers in relation to four ethical conduct areas, namely data management, study conduct, professional practices, and business practices. In addition, sensemaking training led to researchers’ preference for decisions involving the application of the broad metacognitive reasoning strategies. Individual trainee and training characteristics were used to explain the study findings. Broad implications of the findings for ethics training development, implementation, and evaluation in the sciences are discussed.

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