Revisiting: Creation of Aspirational Principles

Karen Haggerty

I would like to revisit a topic that has been addressed by two of the previous contributors to this series[1]: the creation of a set of aspirational principles for SIETAR-USA. My thoughts and opinions here come from my own professional experience, conversations with colleagues, previous series contributors and a discussion on the Intercultural Insights forum that I initiated

Previously, as the membership director in a professional association, I became familiar with the strategies i.e. continuing education, research, public advocacy etc. that a membership organization can employ to advance its profession. Another common strategy is to define the standards by which professional members are expected to operate. Key functions the latter strategy serves are:

-  to communicate to potential clients and the public at large about what they should be able to expect from members of the profession and

-  to educate members about the professional standards and behaviors they should employ while practicing the profession.

As a fellow interculturalist noted that this isn’t about what we do so much as how we do it.” Given the incredible diversity of intercultural work, this is a valuable point to make. The conversation here isn’t about trying to create an all-inclusive statement that defines the nature of our work, but more to set some standard agreements about how we do it.

Why does the intercultural field need such a set of principles? Among many reasons, two of the most important are the following:

1)  We need to “brand” our field as a legitimate profession that brings value.
Conversations and opinions abound that, despite the fact that our field has existed for decades now, our profession often still struggles with a lack of understanding about the value we bring to individuals and organizations. On a visionary level, this challenge provides us fewer opportunities to create positive impact with our work.  On a very practical level (for many of us), it means there are fewer opportunities to earn a living doing the work we love. Creating such a set of professional standards/aspirations is a key opportunity to brand our profession and to communicate our value.


2)  We have a potential “to do harm” through our work.
I have borrowed and paraphrased the expression “to do harm” from the American Psychology Association’s Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct. Again, it is impossible to cover the scope of work we do.  However, many of us deal with topics that have a significant impact on the emotional health and personal development of individuals and organizations. As such, it is of utmost importance that we conduct ourselves ethically and professionally. And, as Naomi Ludeman Smith pointed out in her article, it is useful to have a reminder of the principles we have committed to as a profession.


Some concerns and questions have been raised in the intercultural insight forum, about defining such a set of guidelines or principles.  I will address them in a question and answer format below.

Ethical standards differ from culture to culture, therefore how can we define a set of ethical standards without being exclusionary?

I agree that the definition of what is ethical behavior varies across cultures. However, I suggest our organization employ the same methods that we would use to coach other organizations that must make decisions across multiple cultures and value systems to facilitate a discussion and decision. Likewise, I believe that it is possible to develop such a set of principles that can speak to the U.S. American context in which this organization operates.

Our organization has no ability to enforce a set of ethical standards.

I agree that SIETAR-USA has neither the infrastructure nor core mission to enforce such a set of standards on its membership. However, as the most cohesive membership-based organization of interculturalists in the U.S., with leadership that is elected by its members, I believe that this is the most appropriate organization in the U.S. context to craft such a set of principles.

Next steps:

I join other Eye on Ethics contributors in the call for members to participate in the challenging yet rewarding conversation to develop aspiration principles. There are opportunities to do so, such as responding on the forum following each essay including this one, consider joining the organization’s Ethics Committee (contact, search out Conference 2012 sessions which emphasize ethics and  plan to visit the Ethics Committee Exhibitors table   at the  same Conference. Above all, make time in your life to think and reflect upon what a set of principles for SIETAR-USA members would mean to you and your work as an interculturalist.

I’ve given my voice; SIETAR-USA needs yours.  

[1] I encourage you to read the articles written by Dr. Naomi Ludeman Smith and Michael Tucker in this this same series.

Karen Haggerty is a Master’s candidate in Intercultural Relations at the joint University of the Pacific/Institute for Intercultural Communications Program. She is an Associate of the Global Leadership Advancement Center, San Jose State University and a Fellow of  SIIC. She is developing a simulation for global leader which will assist them in making ethical decisions in the global context. She may be contacted at

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