Why ethics matters in International Development

RDI Network
October 2021
7 min read

Development and humanitarian aid deals with many different forms of power disparities and vulnerable groups of people. Ethics, in the development sector, is a framework for respectful and meaningful development relations and processes. 
Here are some considerations for why ethical principles must underpin development research, programs, and policymaking:

  • Development organisations operate in uneven power relations with roots in colonialism. These include inequalities between INGOs and local partners, headquarter staff and local staff, and between organisations and the people they work with. This raises ethical questions about how to ensure processes are consensual, as well as who is represented in decision-making
  • Development advocacy is concerned with sharing the importance and impact of development work to secure support and resources. Development organisations rely on their reputation for ethical conduct to raise funds. Addressing these ethical concerns improves the access and legitimacy of development programs, and aims to produce more relevant, useful, and appropriate interventions
  • Development communications can contribute to uneven power dynamics between development practitioners and the people who share their stories with them. Ethical considerations recognise the importance of informed consent, agency, trust and accountability in obtaining stories. It also addresses representations of low-to-middle income countries (LIMICs) and its people. Ethics underpin the responsibility to produce accurate and nuanced representations, over racist stereotypes and disempowered communities.
  • Development research may have researchers, practitioners, and evaluators working in countries that are not their own, which necessitates the need for cultural competence. Similarly, ethical considerations are vital for reputable and quality development research. Both are important for sustaining relations of trust and help to conduct ethical and rigorous research that informs better development.

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