Today is Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This federal holiday was chosen earlier this year after hundreds of unmarked graves were found at the site of former residential schools across the country. These state-sanctioned schools operated as early as the 1800s and the last one closed in 1996. Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and brought to the schools in order to assimilate them into Canadian society. That meant disconnection from their native cultures, their families and their languages. Thousands of residential school survivors have since come forward telling heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect, but their voices did not fully pierce through our national consciousness until the unmarked graves were found earlier this year. Now, we as a nation are grappling with these dark truths in a way that we never have before.
This is an extreme example of successive governments pushing an agenda on certain people, ultimately leading to a tremendous amount of human suffering. It seems to me that there is something that some of us can learn here, or at least be reminded of. On these CBSM forums, we mostly cover sustainability and behaviour change topics. We less often discuss the ethics of our practice. When we choose a group to "target" in an effort to influence behaviour, we should be asking ourselves such questions as:
- Is this group a marginalized or vulnerable community in some way?
- Has the group expressed a need for behaviour change, or identified a problem themselves?
- Is this group fully involved and engaged in the change process? If not, is this justifiable?
- What is the power dynamic between the practitioner(s) and the target group? Does one have more power than the other? If so, how can that be counterbalanced?
- What implicit biases might we be holding about this group?
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, throughout the entire course of a behaviour change program or campaign, we should be asking ourselves "Are we honouring the humanity of everyone we work with, including those we are trying to help?"
For more information on ethics in social marketing practice, please see Lefebvre, 2013; Andreasen, 1995; Brenkert, 2002; Donovan & Henley, 2010; Hastings, 2007; Kotler & Roberto, 1989; Lee & Kotler, 2011; O'Shaughnessy, 1996; Siegel and Lotenberg, 2007; Truss & White, 2010.