Who is an authentic professional: responsibility of a professional in a public project intervention
Recently while debating the design, location, and erection of flyover, a leading architect who had designed the new campus of IIMA and who is also a dear friend, Bimal Patel, said, “AMC just wanted my company to design the flyover for them. The AMC had a report which suggested that a flyover was needed at the junction to ease congestion and was the only alternative. They did not seek any inputs from my company. Being a professional architecture firm we were supposed to design a flyover, which we did”( TOI, July 19, 2013).
I don’t want to debate at this stage whether we need a flyover or not, and whether iima and the rest of the city woke up to its ugliness/beauty too late. That is an issue, which can be discussed separately. My central concern is more fundamental, what is the implication of a good professional practice? Who is a true professional and whether we need to debate the norms by which we define the boundaries and accountability of any profession, including management, architecture, medical, design, governance etc.
When a patient is brought to a responsible surgeon, she looks at the medical condition, chances of survival after going through the surgery, risks, sometimes the affordability of operation by the family of the patient, alternative means of recovery and the eco-system for post operation recovery and care. May be there are many surgeons who ask fewer questions but go by the advice of the other doctors and given understanding of the patient ( informed or otherwise). I know many doctors who will suggest taking steam, hot water and doing gargles in the case of normal throat infection instead of prescribing several medicines. But there are also others who will start with strong antibiotics so that patient gets quick relief, doesn’t matter, if resistance develops in the long term. Both are professional.
What should/may a profession involving a public engagement require:
Whether the affected people by that public action have been consulted, could they have a better suggestion about the possible designs of the solution? Whether the client has been well advised and could there be a case for second opinion? Will it really solve the problem or just defer the pain or alleviate it? Are their any other circumstances, which also require wider stakeholder consultation?
Whether educating client about various alternative, more effective and may be even affordable solutions is or is not the duty of consultant? Should society affected by a public decision be invited to make suggestions? One can argue that inviting public reactions or input may be clients responsibility and not a consultant’s. But increasing demand for accountability by civil society world over is a sign that traditional boundary of professional responsibility are being challenged. If a management consultant just implements the brief given by client without educating client about alternative ways of solving a problem, then surely that consultant may be gaining business but losing social and may be even ethical capital.
Should I take into account the consequences of my decisions on the people affected by my decision, and if so, what will be adequate consultation pedagogy? Will a public notice suffice? Will a public hearing at one location suffice? Should we keep plans for a public project for wider scrutiny so that quality of design and its relationship with local and distant communities improves? But will not consultation process make project costs slightly higher? Will it not delay the process? Should a professional be answerable to society at large or only to his own professional and moral compass?
I think the time has come to debate the role of professionals as well as professional societies so that new norms are evolved which make us more responsible, responsive and sensitive about ecological, ethical, social and of course domain specific professional accountability.
I am sure one can find many mistakes which each one of us has done but unless we participate in this cathartic process with an open mind, we will all suffer the wrath of social anger and in some cases deeper apathy, in other cases, even hostility. World is no more that it was. Thank god, that it is not.