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Confidentiality vs. Anonymity

Q

I have a question, or possibly a challenge, for you: Why are Delphi
questions merely confidential and not anonymous?

The UCAR Policy Statement says: "The Delphi Service is one means
by which any employee may ask a question related to the operation of UCAR
and receive an answer, while maintaining anonymity."

But the procedure for submitting a question requires me to sign my name.
That's not anonymous. I have a Delphi question to ask, but it could cause
trouble for me just for having asked it.

Now, I believe that the Delphi coordinators are trustworthy and have
integrity, but I don't know you personally. What if my situation turns out
to be the one that doesn't fit in with community standards and violates the
very sense of responsibility you were selected for? I feel that my
situation is legitimate and ethical-but what if you disagree?
Given my reluctance to expose myself to potentially negative repercussions,
should I ask my question?

Sincerely,
-Anonymous

P.S. If this spurs you to consider setting up an anonymous system, it seems
like it would be relatively simple to set up a Web site where an employee
could anonymously submit a message and a simple password to access the
answer. The details of the answer might not be as secure as if they were
mailed to the questioner's home address, but the questioner could be
guaranteed true anonymity. Perhaps some people would find that the
trade-off is worthwhile?

Answered on October 30, 2005

A

In the past, Delphi has not responded to letters unless the identity of the
questioner is known. We have chosen to answer this question, however,
because we believe the writer brings up good points and we believe staff
would be interested in this topic.

Your questions are challenging because they ask us to think about the
current Delphi process and to consider changing the process to assure
anonymity. You are correct in quoting the Delphi policy that explains the
process as one that "maintains anonymity."

The Delphi process, in place since 1974, is designed as a way for employees
to ask UCAR managers "questions or concerns about UCAR policy and practice,
especially in cases where they believe their personal interests are at
stake." (Policy 4-1-2)

Your inquiry included these questions: "What if my situation turns out to
be the one that doesn't fit in with community standards and violates the
very sense of responsibility you were selected for? I feel that my
situation is legitimate and ethical-but what if you disagree? Given my
reluctance to expose myself to potentially negative repercussions, should I
ask my question?"

It is important for employees to be able to provide input on ethical
issues. For that reason, there is an ethics website that is designed to
allow employees to report accounting, auditing, and internal control
concerns in an anonymous manner. I encourage you to use this venue if
appropriate.

The Delphi process has a larger and more general scope and is widely used
by employees. The Delphi coordinators are not tasked with agreeing or
disagreeing with questions submitted, but with responding to inquiries. The
integrity of the question is substantiated by the questioner "owning" the
question or concern. Alternatively, anonymity would allow that:

• A question might be asked that could include serious accusations or
claims that could not be substantiated. There is the potential for
irresponsible or false allegations that could damage the reputation of
another employee or could compromise the integrity of the Delphi process.

• If the question included allegations of illegal activity or if an
anonymous communiqué described a situation in which a UCAR employee's
safety was at risk, the Delphi coordinators would have no way of discussing
the situation with the individual.

The identity of UCAR employees who ask Delphi questions is always guarded
very carefully by Teresa Rivas and me. Since we are co-coordinators of the
Delphi process, the majority of the time employees send their inquiries to
only one of us. Occasionally, questions are sent to both of us and we
decide which one of us will forward the question to the appropriate person.

There have been occasions when a Delphi question prompted an internal
investigation of legitimate concerns relevant to an employee's health
and/or safety. If we had not known the identity of the person who asked the
question, we would have had no way to work with the person to help resolve
the issues.
When a questioner identifies himself or herself, if only to one Delphi
coordinator, the very act of identification-in my opinion-lends credibility
to the interaction. Teresa and I both believe strongly that with
accountability comes responsibility.

You state that you fear "negative repercussions" by asking a Delphi
question. I encourage you to trust that your question will be taken
seriously, that we will remove your identifying information before we
forward it to the appropriate person, and that you will be treated with the
utmost respect as we work hard to maintain your confidentiality.

-Nancy Wade, Delphi co-coordinator