Operational research and ethics: a literature review
Any human activity raises ethical questions, questions about ‘good’ and ‘right’ ways to act and to live; or to put it differently, questions of values and responsibility. From its inception operational research (OR) has engaged with such questions in terms of professional behaviour, the handling of preferences in OR, the societal role of OR, the process of OR intervention and the content of OR analysis. As a result, analytical methods and processes have been developed to help clients explore the ethical dimension of their decisions. The paper reviews the literature published in selected OR journals (Management Science; Operations Research; Interfaces; the European Journal of Operational Research; the Journal of the Operations Research Society; Omega; International Transactions in Operational Research; the Journal of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis), organizing it along the lines of OR’s core competences. The review identifies a number of significant research programmes that are well established and are being energetically pursued; the research findings are being applied to a wide range of important issues. Ethical questions lie at the heart of the great governmental and commercial issues of the day: economic growth and instability; inequality and injustice; environmental degradation and sustainability. They also lie at the heart of the more mundane decisions of day-to-day OR. ‘Ethics’ therefore provides a useful focus for OR both in terms of raising the awareness of all concerned and in providing a theme for research. As a result of the review some research questions are suggested. There is much of interest, much to do. âº Ethics and society. âº Intervention ethics. âº Ethics in analysis. âº Personal and professional ethics.