Institutions and Ethics at the Ford Center

The Ford Center includes a strong focus on the multidimensional ethical issues public and private institutions – and the individuals who occupy them – must anticipate, understand, and manage.

The main aims of the Institutions and Ethics area are to research, understand, and explain the role of governments, organizations, societies, and individuals in creating and engaging in norms for right and wrong behavior.

How We Think About Ethics
Ethics – understanding right and wrong, behaving on the basis of guiding moral foundations, and determining another person’s moral character – forms the basis for effective social interaction at the individual and organizational level.
Organizational and interpersonal success therefore depends on mastering these principles. In line with this, the Ford Center’s Institutions and Ethics area focuses on:
  • How people and organizations make moral judgments
  • Why they may behave ethically or unethically
  • Assessment of others’ moral character.
To gain a full view of these issues, we integrate the work of economists, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists.

Understanding Moral Concerns in Business
The social environment of business is complex, in large part because it involves actors with divergent, sometimes conflicting motivations. More specifically, consumers, employees, and political activists are frequently motivated by moral concerns. Firms must be able to anticipate these concerns, predict their effects reliably, and incorporate this analysis into their broad strategic planning. That encompasses everything from communication strategies to coalition-building, from strategic within- and cross-industry alliances to the development of organizational solutions and corporate structures.

A Value Perspectives Approach
Ethics-related research and teaching at the Kellogg School focuses on the challenge of incorporating a variety of value perspectives into decision-making. Such integration depends on understanding several key factors:
  • Salient, often competing values within a public or private organization and its social environment
  • How individuals respond both to moral and emotional arguments and to more classical material incentives
  • Psychological regulators and predispositions that affect behavior
Research Philosophy and Areas
Our research focus is less concerned with addressing normative questions of what ought to be done in any particular instance, and more about asking positive questions to understand what can be done. As such, the methodological approach here is interdisciplinary, incorporating insights from social psychology, game theory, and behavioral economics, among other areas.

Broadly, our research in this domain examines moral judgment, the principles people use to determine whether an action is right or wrong, and whether these moral foundations vary by context, culture, personality type, and developmental stage as related to managerial and organizational behavior. It also involves examining the causes and consequences of ethical and unethical action, including answering the critical question “Why do good people do bad things?” Finally, our research examines how people understand the personalities and mental states of others to make judgments of others’ morality.

Center faculty members have engaged in past and current research projects in the Institutions and Ethics area, including:
  • Psychological bases of dishonesty in terms of lying, cheating, and stealing
  • Corporate social responsibility, and specifically how to establish corporate cultures of integrity
  • Moral dilemmas, including how people determine fair procedures for dividing scarce resources, and whether people consider whistleblowers heroic or villainous
  • Macro-level phenomena, such as social movements to promote moral causes, and the spread of bribery and corruption.