The guidelines below were approved by the NAPA Ethics Committee and Governing Council, and were then approved by the NAPA membership by vote in the spring of 2018.

Guidelines for Ethical Practice 2018
National Association for the Practice of AnthropologyBackground
Professional anthropologists work in many different sectors (e.g., public, private, non-profit) and in many roles including research, evaluation, service and program delivery, strategy, policy, scientific or subject matter consulting, advocacy, leading teams or organizations, and administration. We engage in anthropological practice in cooperation with others, never working completely alone or totally independently. We work with many different stakeholders on issues that typically involve interesting, complex, and often, ambiguous cultural contexts. Stakeholders may include funders/sponsors/employers, colleagues, research participants, employees, consumers, and community members. Our work is simultaneously collaborative and oriented toward problem solving.

Our ethical guidelines help us cope with the new and different challenges we face. Our ethical beliefs inform our actions and are reaffirmed by them. We are guided by numerous principles – including those associated with our individual upbringings, anthropological training, colleagues and mentors, employers and staff, study participants, and professional associations, to name a few. NAPA members look to its guidelines for an important form, but not the only form, of professional guidance.

In setting forth these ethical guidelines for Professional/Practicing anthropologists we recognize:

  • The multiplicity and complexity of these sometimes-competing and sometimes-congruent principles;
  • The team-based nature of anthropological work, which requires consensus building and compromise;
  • That our work is often time-sensitive and subject to the emergence of new and urgent issues that demand swift attention;
  • That our work often involves planned change in organizational and community settings.

Anthropologists should review ethical options and choices carefully – in consultation with these guidelines and the AAA Statement on Ethics and, when appropriate, with other colleagues, partners, and community members who might offer alternative perspectives. (There are other organizations who have given ethics careful consideration; their ethical guidelines should also be reviewed. References to other ethical guidance resources can be found in the AAA Ethics Guidelines.) It is important to make the best decisions possible, given the circumstances and input available, and then adjust as appropriate regarding how and/or whether to continue the work.

Recognizing that ethical issues are often uncovered in practice, this document provides professional anthropologists with a basic set of understandings that can serve as points of departure for further dialogue. These guidelines not only highlight a commitment to “do no harm,” but also urge professional anthropologists to “do some good.” These guidelines also are a step toward creating a culture of sharing and exploration of ethical dilemmas to foster transparency, collegiality, and potential options in the course of anthropological work.

The scientific community holds “do no harm” to be a core, guiding principle. We believe that “do some good” is an additional disciplinary aspiration since it emphasizes positive action, outcomes, and changes in priorities. Anthropologists can, do, and should try to “do some good” for the organizations and communities with whom they work, as well as their sponsors, consumers, employees, colleagues, students, and/or humanity as a whole. At the same time, we must be mindful of possible competing demands as we seek potential solutions. “Do some good” is followed naturally by the questions “for and as understood by whom?” These questions imply a continuing expectation for professional anthropologists to contemplate the effects of their work on all stakeholders so that the “do no harm” principle is upheld. This vigilance, an additional responsibility of anthropologists, should be a central component of anthropological training.

Similarly, the ever-changing nature of the communities and situations in which we work requires us to be flexible in planning and in responding to the challenges we encounter. We must also use our knowledge and skills, applying our understanding of multiple perspectives, value systems, and power relationships, in the work we do. A balanced approach considers: 1) the ambiguous nature of the anthropological undertaking, 2) the complexities of relationships and partnerships, and 3) the accountability that anthropologists have to partnering organizations and communities, the work itself, and to the discipline of anthropology. By meeting the above criteria, anthropologists can be proud of their contributions to pragmatic ideas and problem solving, in addition to their expertise and skills in theoretical development, methodological rigor and innovation, and documentation of human behavior.

We recognize that our work is relational and involves a variety of stakeholders whose perspectives and interests must be considered when creating respectful processes for rapport and engagement and for building and maintaining trust. The stakeholders with whom we work are neither “subjects” nor “informants,” but rather “partners” in the endeavor. Further, we recognize that anthropological practice exists on a continuum between objective observation and advocacy, and that any biases carry with them increased responsibility for ethical vigilance.

NAPA Guidelines for Ethical Practice
In recognition of the nature of contemporary anthropological practice, we outline the following ethical guidelines. Practicing and professional anthropologists should strive to:

  • Acknowledge biases. There is potential bias in all anthropological work, but it can be magnified in professional/applied/practicing contexts. Given that we often work with groups that have competing interests, we know that it may not be possible to serve all equally. Some stakeholders will take precedence; protecting all from potential harm may be unrealistic in certain advocacy or organizational roles. We should be attentive to potential bias, correcting or articulating justifications for it in study design, execution, reporting, and advocacy. We should also be self-reflexive in the roles we play, cognizant of and transparent about our own goals and interests.
  • Consistently consider the implications of our work. We should evaluate our responsibilities to communities, organizations, and/or clients both before a project is started, throughout the project’s duration, and potentially afterwards, as appropriate. Given that conditions are dynamic and situations are often complicated, we should do our best to manage the challenges by considering the implications of our actions on a regular basis and adjusting or ceasing our work as appropriate. When embarking on a relationship, thought should be given to when and how that relationship is likely to conclude. Care should be given to minimize any potential negative effects of changes in the anthropologist’s engagement (e.g. new or changing work expectations, personal reasons) over the course of the project.
  • Connect with our anthropological colleagues. Just as we have multiple relationships with stakeholders in our work, we are linked to other professional anthropologists in a community of practice. We should both use and serve as resources for our colleagues, engaging in dialogue with them about challenging ethical quandaries. We should strive to keep up with advances in scientific knowledge, professional trends, and skill sets.
  • Ensure transparency. Anthropological practice relies on trust and eschews deception. We should be open, honest, and transparent about our role(s), ensuring consistency with stakeholder requests and interests. We should discuss goals, methods, any observations or findings, potential actions, and outcomes with stakeholders on a regular basis. We should articulate clearly what we can do, how the work might be done and in what time frame, taking into account employer, client, and funder expectations and input. We should be ready to negotiate with stakeholders if conditions change – including those tied to a shift and/or an expansion in focus. We should act with honesty and integrity in all of our interactions with clients, stakeholders, communities, and colleagues.
  • Establish clear research protocols. In conducting research, we need to create and follow clear protocols and identify ways we might respond to anticipated pitfalls or ethical problems. Informed consent may be either verbal or written, depending on organizational and community expectations. At a minimum, informed consent statements should include a brief explanation of the research and its relevance for the organization or community, and that participation is voluntary and confidential. Ownership of the data should be clearly established at the outset of any project. If the organization or sponsoring institution(s) require(s) institutional review board (IRB) review, it is important to understand and design the research so that it adheres to institutional requirements. In federally-funded work, there may also be Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review requirements and Federal Acquisition Rules (FAR) that apply to control of data and publication rights. It is the anthropologist’s responsibility to be cognizant of these rules and their implication for federally sponsored contracts.
  • Apply ethical guidelines to all aspects of practice. When our roles include activities other than research, we must be as rigorous in our ethical decision making. Most writing on anthropological ethics is focused on research and to some extent on teaching. Those of us with other roles (e.g., administrators, project managers, organizational development specialists) must budget extra time to think through ethical considerations. In this process, we should make every effort to consult with colleagues who hold a broad range of perspectives, not only those who understand and agree with our work. Since there is less disciplinary guidance on the ethical dimensions of these other roles and activities, we must also make ourselves available for consultation with colleagues, especially junior colleagues, who are engaged in ethical decision-making about the array of practice roles and activities. Such discussions may occur through a mentoring relationship, during a conference session or panel, through one-on-one interaction, or through publication.
  • Communicate inclusively and effectively. Anthropological work involves stakeholders who have different backgrounds, areas of expertise, perspectives and/or approaches, and with whom we need to communicate in a timely and respectful way. We should be inclusive, ensuring that organizational and community input, objectives, techniques, and strategies are appropriately incorporated to the extent possible. Providing timely communication and transmitting results and recommendations to relevant stakeholders reinforces our credibility. Our communication should be easy-to-understand; jargon should be minimized, eliminated or defined. We should strive to be as objective as possible in our reporting; any biases, limitations or restrictions related to our work should be clearly identified. Finally, we should display and/or communicate the positive value of anthropological approaches and perspectives in our interactions with clients and communities.

NAPA welcomes comments on these guidelines, which can be made via the “contact us” form on this site; comments may also be made directly to the Ethics Committee Chair (see the Governing Council tab in the About page).

Update of Original Ethical Guidelines
In early 2015 the NAPA Governing Council decided that the time was right to take a look at NAPA’s ethical guidelines in light of three decades of disciplinary change. The Governing Council approved the creation of a NAPA Ethics Subcommittee on Revision to the Ethics Statement, chaired by Niel Tashima. Niel brought valuable institutional memory to the table as part of the group that crafted the 1988 NAPA ethical guidelines as well as membership on the committee that crafted the current (2012) AAA ethics statement. Subcommittee members represented a particularly diverse cross-section of domains of anthropological practice, and included Elizabeth Briody, Christina Marisa Getrich, Dawn Lehman, Sarah Ono, Tracy Meerwarth Pester, Lauren S. Penney, and Joe Watkins. The group determined early in its work that a new ethics statement would be in the best interests of the membership. Over a two year period, the subcommittee authored a new ethics statement, incorporating prior discussion of ethics in practice, ample conversations with colleagues, and opportunities for feedback from NAPA membership. The statement has been amended and approved by the NAPA Ethics Committee and by the NAPA Governing Council, and was ratified by the NAPA membership via AAA ballot in spring 2018.

NAPA is grateful for the work done by the members of the NAPA Subcommittee on Revision to the Ethics Statement:
Elizabeth Briody, Cultural Keys
Christina Getrich, University of Maryland
Dawn Lehman, Northern Arizona University
Tracy Meerwarth Pester, Consolidated Bearings Company
Chad Morris, Roanoke College (Ethics Committee Chair, ex officio)
Sarah Ono, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs
Lauren Penney, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs
Niel Tashima, LTG Associates (Sub-Committee Chair)
Joe Watkins, National Park Service (Supervisory Cultural Anthropologist)

Looking back at NAPA and Ethics

Prior NAPA Ethical Guidelines

Comment on Practice and Ethics 2014

NAPA AAA Ethics Position 2008

Welcome To NAPA

NAPA promotes human-centered work applied to practical problems by linking a network of professional anthropologists working across employment sectors.  We support all anthropologists in bringing real solutions to communities, organizations, and policymakers, by offering advocacy, information, networks, mentoring, and continuing education.

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