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Ethics beyond the model: How social dynamics can interfere with ethical practice in operational research/management science


  • Brocklesby, John


Responding to a call for more attention to be given to ethics within operational research, Marc Le Menestrel and Luk Van Wassenhove have recently outlined a perspective on the relationship between OR models and ethics that squarely ties ethical engagement to daily practice and, more specifically, to the manner in which a practitioner uses a model or other technique in a particular setting. They refer to this approach as "ethics beyond OR models". This paper seeks to extend the debate on this topic by examining some of the difficulties of ethical action when it is defined in these terms. Specifically the paper seeks to show how the social dynamics that circumscribe much professional practice can easily override good intentions on the part of the people concerned. Ethical practice dictates that those involved in OR/MS practice should seriously contemplate their own involvement in the process of knowledge production and be fully aware of the wider ramifications of employing particular modelling techniques and other tools. However, this is not always easy since the complex social dynamics that surround an inquiry can surreptitiously undermine these intentions. In extreme cases, these processes can create an ethical trap that those involved may not be fully recognise until after the event. In exploring such a disjuncture between ethical intentionality and outcomes the paper re-examines and reflects upon a major consulting assignment which was led by the author and subsequently published through a leading journal and text.

Suggested Citation

  • Brocklesby, John, 2009. "Ethics beyond the model: How social dynamics can interfere with ethical practice in operational research/management science," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 1073-1082, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jomega:v:37:y:2009:i:6:p:1073-1082

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Le Menestrel, Marc & Van Wassenhove, Luk N., 2004. "Ethics outside, within, or beyond OR models?," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 153(2), pages 477-484, March.
    2. Jane Collier, 2006. "The Art of Moral Imagination: Ethics in the Practice of Architecture," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 66(2), pages 307-317, June.
    3. Davies, J. & Mabin, V.J. & Balderstone, S.J., 2005. "The theory of constraints: a methodology apart?--a comparison with selected OR/MS methodologies," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 506-524, December.
    4. Adler, Nicole & Raveh, Adi, 2008. "Presenting DEA graphically," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 715-729, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Midgley, Gerald & Cavana, Robert Y. & Brocklesby, John & Foote, Jeff L. & Wood, David R.R. & Ahuriri-Driscoll, Annabel, 2013. "Towards a new framework for evaluating systemic problem structuring methods," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 229(1), pages 143-154.
    2. Richard Ormerod, 2017. "Writing practitioner case studies to help behavioural OR researchers ground their theories: application of the mangle perspective," Journal of the Operational Research Society, Palgrave Macmillan;The OR Society, vol. 68(5), pages 507-520, May.
    3. Brocklesby, John & Beall, Elizabeth, 2018. "Processes of engagement and methodology design in Community Operational Research – Insights from the indigenous peoples sector," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 268(3), pages 996-1005.
    4. Brocklesby, John & Midgley, Gerald, 2016. "Boundary games: How teams of OR practitioners explore the boundaries of interventionAuthor-Name: Velez-Castiblanco, Jorge," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 249(3), pages 968-982.
    5. Meinard, Y. & Cailloux, O., 2020. "On justifying the norms underlying decision support," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 285(3), pages 1002-1010.
    6. Hämäläinen, Raimo P. & Luoma, Jukka & Saarinen, Esa, 2013. "On the importance of behavioral operational research: The case of understanding and communicating about dynamic systems," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 228(3), pages 623-634.
    7. Ormerod, Richard J. & Ulrich, Werner, 2013. "Operational research and ethics: A literature review," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 228(2), pages 291-307.
    8. Franco, L. Alberto & Greiffenhagen, Christian, 2018. "Making OR practice visible: Using ethnomethodology to analyse facilitated modelling workshops," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 265(2), pages 673-684.
    9. Mingers, John, 2011. "Ethics and OR: Operationalising discourse ethics," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 210(1), pages 114-124, April.
    10. Fry, John & Binner, Jane M., 2016. "Elementary modelling and behavioural analysis for emergency evacuations using social media," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 249(3), pages 1014-1023.


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