A Code of Ethics For Today's Planners

Perhaps the highest compliment I've heard about a professional was that they: "...are a deeply principled planner." Not just that they are good at what they do, but that they are grounded in what makes a planner different from other professionals; that is, the ethical principles to which we all aspire.

AICP Code Adapts to Modern Challenges

The AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct articulates our shared values and how these should be applied in a dynamic professional practice and community setting. The Code sets us apart and tells our employers, colleagues, students, emerging professionals, and communities that we adhere to strict ethical standards. As members of AICP, we have pledged to hold ourselves to these standards and expect our conduct to be judged against them by our peers. The Code is a guide and a reference that helps keep us out of trouble. It's also a reminder to aim high and act with integrity, even when we think no one is watching.

However, the Code was not carved in stone, brought down to us by Daniel Burnham. It was developed by planners who thoughtfully addressed the issues that were understood at the time to define the difference between serving the public good, and serving self-interest. The Code was first adopted in 1948 by one of our predecessors, the American Institute of Planners; before there was the Internet, before social media, before Zoom, and before a recognition of climate change or our role as planners in institutionalized injustice. Our communities, our workplaces, and the issues we address are ever-changing — and our Code of Ethics must be kept relevant to the practice of planning today to best serve our planners and our communities.

AICP Code Undergoes Major Updates Review

The Code's first two sections, "Aspirational Principles" and "Rules of Conduct" had not been comprehensively reviewed since 2005. Two years ago, the AICP Commission appointed a Task Force of AICP members to consider potential updates to the Code, with special attention to ethical concerns raised by members, chapters, and divisions regarding equity and social justice, sexual harassment, and discrimination, as well as a variety of issues related to the use and interpretation of the Code.

Following a two-year process, those proposed Code revisions are now before the APA and AICP membership for their review. Here are some highlights of the proposed changes in the draft:

  • Expands and reorganizes the Principles to Which We Aspire (Section A) into logical groupings to highlight the planners' role in serving the public interest and to:
    • more fully account for the planners' role in social justice and racial equity, while accepting our responsibility to eliminate historic patterns of inequity tied to planning decisions;
    • recognize and respect the rights of others and not discriminate against or harass others; and
    • increase opportunities for members of underrepresented groups to become professional planners.
  • Reorganize the Rules of Conduct (Section B) into logical groupings to increase clarity for compliance and:
    • eliminate geographic inconsistencies on who or how Rules of Conduct are enforced;
    • clarify types of additional employment that would create an actual or perceived conflict of interest; and
    • require an AICP member to cooperate with the AICP Ethics Officer or AICP Ethics Committee if it is determined that they have information relevant to a charge filed against another AICP member.
  • Reduces the use of frivolous complaints by an aggrieved member of the public against an AICP member by allowing only AICP members the option to file an appeal of a determination by the Ethics Officer related to a complaint of misconduct.

AICP Ethics Code Update Progression

Once the membership has had an opportunity to review the draft, attend a Town Hall discussion (on June 9), and provide comments and suggestions, a final draft will be brought before the AICP Commission for adoption this Fall. This draft alone is not the end of this update process. The AICP Ethics Committee also is planning to establish and make available a robust catalog of previous ethics decisions, reference materials, and past Code interpretations. The Committee also will continue to use real-life ethical dilemmas in its annual update of the "Cases of the Year" ethics seminars available at national and chapter APA conferences.

Please take the time to read the Draft of the Ethics Code Update and, if possible, attend the Ethics Code Town Hall on June 9, 2021. We hope you will find within the proposed Code revisions the values that inspired you to become a planner in the first place.

AICP Code of Ethics Draft Update — Clean Version

AICP Code of Ethics Draft Update — Blueline Version

AICP Code of Ethics Crosswalk From Current Text to Proposed Text

Lee Brown, FAICP
About The Author
Lee Brown, FAICP, is the chair of the AICP Code Update Task Force and a former president of the AICP Commission. He also is president of Teska Associates, Inc., a planning consulting firm.

May 21, 2021

By Lee Brown, FAICP