ACR Standards For Professional Conduct in Consumer Research: Can We Get There From Here?

Monroe Friedman, Eastern Michigan University
[ to cite ]:
Monroe Friedman (1977) ,"ACR Standards For Professional Conduct in Consumer Research: Can We Get There From Here?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 254-255.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 254-255


Monroe Friedman, Eastern Michigan University

The provocative question raised by the title of this paper was the subject of an equally provocative discussion at a workshop held at the 1976 meeting of the Association for Consumer Research (ACR). The Workshop on Establishing Standards for Professional Conduct in Consumer Research was an effort by the ACR ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs to explore new directions for the Association with regard to standards of conduct for its members. To assist the workshop participants with this task, representatives of three professional associations appeared to share their experiences with codes of conduct. These individuals were Frank Walker, representing the Joint Committee Concerned with Public Attitudes Toward Survey Research; Charles McClintock representing the American Association for Public Opinion Research; and Brenda Gurel of the American Psychological Association. Also appearing as workshop speakers were Jacob Jacoby, who outlined the history and objectives of the ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs, and Monroe Friedman, who reported on a set of recommendations of the ad hoc committee for establishing ACR standards of conduct. Three members of the ad hoc committee (George Brosseau, Laird Landon, and George Szybillo) also contributed to the workshop as Resource Person and Discussants.


In what follows we will briefly review some of the major points contributed by the various speakers and the reactions they stimulated in the workshop attendees. Starting first with the presentation by Jacob Jacoby, we find that while serving as ACR president in 1974, he established the ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs "to consider whether ACR needs a set of ethical guidelines regarding such subjects as: (a) research involving consumers, and (b) providing testimony as expert witnesses." Jacoby emphasized the importance of these issues to the credibility of ACR as an organization standing for soundly designed and executed consumer research. He also suggested that ethical issues be explored relating to the dissemination of consumer research findings. He identified plagiarism and the fairness of scholarly Journal policies and procedures as two dissemination sub-issues in need of attention by the ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs.

The next speaker, Frank Walker, briefly described the history and functions of the Joint Committee Concerned with Public Attitudes Toward Survey Research. Although the Joint Committee has not attempted to develop a code of standards for consumer research, it has served in the role of communicator between organizations which have established codes. Walker suggested that at some time in the future a group like the Joint Committee might endeavor to coordinate the development of a single industry code which would be acceptable to member organizations. The alternative, according to Walker, could be externally imposed standards by government units such as the Privacy Protection Study Commission, the courts, and various legislative bodies.

Following Walker's presentation, Charles McClintock examined some key issues in establishing and enforcing professional research ethics and standards. In exploring these issues McClintock drew upon his experience with various committees of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Among his concerns were the potential beneficiaries of professional standards, the methods by which standards are formulated, and the mechanisms by which they are observed and enforced. In his discussion of the last-mentioned concern, McClintock emphasized that a number of costs, both financial and psychological, will be incurred by enforcement proceedings. He stressed the need for professional associations, when considering the adoption of codes of ethics with enforcement provisions, to be fully conscious of the price which may later have to be paid for these provisions.

McClintock's last point was echoed by the next speaker, Brenda Gurel of the American Psychological Association, who indicated that this organization spends more than $50,000 a year on the enforcement of its code of ethics. According to Gurel, this substantial organizational commitment to ethical conduct has characterized the American Psychological Association for many years, starting with (a) the establishment of a committee in 1938 to examine the desirability of preparing a code of ethics, and (b) the organization of the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct in 1940. Gurel briefly traced the successive developments for the Association which lead to its present code of ethics, and stressed the thoroughness with which explorations were made at each step along the way.

The last speaker, Monroe Friedman, proposed a three stage procedure for ACR to follow for developing standards for professional conduct in consumer research. The suggested procedure, which evolved from the work of the ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs (which is chaired by Friedman), would draw upon the experiences of various consumer research organizations and associations, as well as the perspectives of interested lay persons.


Following the speaker presentations a lively discussion ensued among the workshop participants. Numerous advantages as well as disadvantages associated with the establishment of standards for professional conduct were cited and explored in considerable detail.

At the conclusion of the workshop an informal resolution was introduced which gained the support of a substantial majority of the workshop attendees. This resolution contained the following provisions:

1. The ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs should make an effort to establish a set of guidelines for the professional conduct of consumer research. In light of the high costs of enforcement for a code of conduct, and the minimal resources of ACR for funding this activity, no additional Committee effort should be undertaken at this time to establish enforcement mechanisms and procedures.

2. The ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs should be made a standing committee of ACR, with responsibilities for the following activities:

a. Developing and updating suggested guidelines for research conduct which would then be considered for adoption by the ACR membership.

b. Advising ACR and its Executive Committee of new developments relating to professional conduct in empirical research, in government activities, and in the programs and policies of other professional research associations.

c. Suggesting workshops, paper sessions, and/or other events relating to professional conduct for inclusion on the program of the annual ACR meeting. These recommendations will be forwarded to ACR Executive for its consideration.

In closing, the writer would like to express debts of gratitude to the workshop participants for their valuable contributions, and to the members of the ad hoc Committee on Professional Affairs for their assistance in planning the workshop.