Professional Standards: Who draws the line?
Establishing and enforcing standards of practice, competency and ethics are among the primary functions of a self-regulating profession. These standards affect most aspects of a practitioner’s professional life and business practices. Ethical expectations also cross the boundary into a professional’s personal world, such as the requirement that architects avoid “dishonourable conduct” in their professional or private lives.
Understanding the authority for establishing these standards – and how they evolve – is vitally important to the regulator and to the professionals impacted by the rules, codes and bylaws by which they practice.
The BC Architects Act is the primary source of authority for the establishment of the institute and the profession of architecture in BC as a self-regulating body. Some basic standards and limitations are actually found directly in the Act, such as the spectrum of business entities available to the profession (sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations) and the general use of the architect’s seal.
Codes, Bylaws and Bulletins …
Most standards, however, are found in the matrix of non-legislated codes, rules and bylaws that self-regulating professions establish under the authority of their statute. This non-legislative documentation also provides direction and practice advice to the profession.
For architects and associates, the institute’s bylaws (authorized by the Architects Act and voted on by architects) include a lengthy section of bylaws that establish standards of competency, behaviour and ethics.
These bylaws are collected within the AIBC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, a document that includes council rulings (elaborating on the bylaw expectations) and commentary (offering practical, updated and interpretive advice).
At a more granular level, institute Bulletins and Practice Notes supplement the Code of Ethics, providing specific practice and ethical direction.
Two examples of AIBC documents tied to bylaws and Code of Ethics are Bulletin 44: Attribution – Giving and Taking Credit for Architectural Services, and Bulletin 61: Seal of an Architect.
Finally, where more precise ‘proof’ of a standard is required, such as in a contested disciplinary inquiry, individual architects may be asked to articulate a certain standard of practice, competency or ethics in a specific scenario. This occurs when architects may be called as ‘expert witnesses’ to give evidence about a professional standard, such as the quality and level of service expected of an architect in the provision of a code review on a complicated project.
Who Determines the Standards?
Aside from the general framework established by the Architects Act, the competency and ethical standards of the architectural profession are determined primarily by architects. Architects vote whether to approve bylaws, including those found in the Code of Ethics. Architects vote for the 10 architect councilors who pass council rulings, who sit as a disciplinary committee and otherwise govern the affairs of the institute. When architect-councilors sit as a majority of a disciplinary committee, architects are judging the conduct of members of their own profession. Similarly, the Consensual Resolution Review Panel, which considers whether to approve consensual resolutions, must be comprised of a majority of architects.
And, finally, in the event that evidence of a specific standard is ever required at a disciplinary hearing or in court, it is architects, as ‘experts’, who provide that evidence. While non-architects contribute to the conversation, the profession’s standards remain in the hands of those expected to uphold them.
Ethics, Act & Bylaws – The Course
Four times a year, the AIBC offers the course Ethics, Act & Bylaws. While it is a mandatory course for intern architects, architectural technologists and for BEFA and BEA applicants, it is also an excellent refresher for architects who have been in practice for many years, and for those practitioners from out-of-province or from another country for whom BC-specific standards will not be the same as those in their home jurisdiction.
For information about this course, for which six AIBC CES Learning Units are available, please contact the AIBC’s Professional Development Coordinator, Krista Sutherland at firstname.lastname@example.org