Decision making tools

Complex social work and human service contexts often mean that practitioners and students are required to make decisions in the "grey area" of practice. In the social work and human service literature there is a range of theory and practice addressing ethical decision making. A simple summary can be found in Chenoweth and Mc Auliffe (2012).

The approach that we have found most useful for students and supervisors in identifying the complexities of situations arising in supervision, placement and practice generally is to ask key questions to the context and identify opportunities in the situation. This approach allows for a wide range of considerations to be incorporated into thinking ethically about practice.

The broad Decision-Making Checklist for responding to Ethical Dilemmas (Crane 2012) allows you explore a particular practice situation and map out the challenges. The checklist works just as effectively with ever level of complexity. The questions in the checklist prompt consideration of the legal, ethical, good practice and organizational aspects of a particular practice situation. By taking the time to consciously work though this process in an explicit and structured way you will build your own and your student’s knowledge and capacity over time.

The checklist highlights the basic questions that an experienced reflective practitioner might ask themselves almost intuitively as they scan and assess practice situations and or make decisions. In the busy world of practice it isn’t practical to stop and question ever decision point. However for students or for those experienced practitioners who find themselves in unchartered territory the questions will prompt exploration of the a particular practice situation. And highlight the decision-making points and priority.

A broad decision making checklist (PDF file, 265KB)

Some decisions will be clear just by raising them to the consciousness. Some will require you to ‘drill down’ and ask sub questions.

A broad decision making checklist template (Word file, 14KB)

Use the Decision Making Checklist in conjunction with the Inclusive Model of Ethical Decision Making (Chenoweth and McAuliffe 2012) to achieve clarity and evidence of your decision making process. The Inclusive Model of decision-making explicitly recognises the importance of cultural awareness and responsiveness when dealing with ethical decision making. The model outlines four interlined dimensions core to sound ethical decision making. Wrapped around this core is a series of steps that question, map and gather information and evaluate progress.

The full version and articles outlining the model can be found in:

  • Chenoweth, L., McAuliffe, D. (2012) The Road to Social Work and Human Services Practice. 3rd ed., South Melbourne; Cengage Learning.
  • McAuliffe, D., Chenoweth.(2008) Leave no stone unturned: The inclusive model of ethical decision-making? Ethics and Social Welfare, 2 (1) 38-49.
  • You can also find a summary of this model and its application with the Decision Making Checklist in Crane 2012 available at Dovetail open the good practice toolkit Linked to another web site web page.