Sociologists can take on a variety of roles as a professional; undertaking grants, contracts, or other consulting activities are important professional services of sociologists located both within and outside of the academy. The ethical and moral responsibilities of sociologists in these roles do not differ significantly from that of sociologists engaged in the more traditional roles of teaching and basic research. Regardless of work setting, sociologists, as professionals, are expected to maintain the highest levels of competence; be honest, fair, and respectful of others; avoid conflicts of interest; adhere to scientific standards of research and scholarship; and accept responsibility for their work. However, there are peculiarities of context that necessitate some specific standards related to the contractual and consulting services provided to clients by sociologists.
Clients who are not familiar with the scientific enterprise may have different conceptions about ownership of intellectual property; the research standards of informed consent and confidentiality; the importance of disseminating accurate and honest results of scientific investigations; and the limitations of social science regarding our ability to “solve problems.” On the other hand, sociologists who have spent their career within the academy as scholars and teachers have some learning to do related to business and contractual relationships with clients. Knowing the importance of deadlines, being aware of compliance regulations, understanding budgeting and billing processes, and recognizing the proprietary nature of contracted work are essential for any sociologist engaged in consulting activities.
Given these contrasting views of roles and obligations, if sociologists engaged in contractual and consulting services are to adhere to the highest ethical standards, it is important that they only undertake grants, contracts or consultation in areas where they are knowledgeable; that they base the results of their work on appropriate information and techniques; that they fulfill their obligations in a timely fashion; that they maintain proper documents and records of their professional and scientific work; and that they clarify, to the extent feasible at the onset, the nature of the relationship with the client. This clarification includes, as appropriate, the nature of the services to be performed, the probable uses of the services provided, possibilities for the sociologist's future use of the work for scholarly or publication purposes, the timetable for delivery of services, and the compensation and billing arrangements.