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#530: Mind Your Ethics When Creating Case Studies for Clients

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 25, 2011
Updated: Friday, March 25, 2011
My client has asked us to provide case studies to use in training his internal consulting staff. He specifically asked that they be based on my own experience and to include how I handled the situations. Should I be worried about using the situation of my other clients?

Absolutely. Setting aside your client's desire for you to use your prior client experiences, there is a serious ethics issue here. You are obliged to protect data and, in most cases, even inferences, about your client's operations, products and even business strategies or plans. Even with your best attempts to redact facts and "fuzzy up" strategies, someone who knows the market of your client may be able to piece together who you are talking about. And, your clients may even prefer you not divulge the nature of your work with them.

It is better to create cases that don’t relate to your clients - at least don't relate one case to one client. Remember, it is perfectly appropriate to create case studies that are entirely fictional. Think of the standard movie disclaimer "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

Tip: You can only use prior client experience if your prior client signs off on your case write-up and its use for training your (specified) current client. You are better off advising your client that professionalism prevents you from the fact or appearance of divulging potentially proprietary information.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  education  ethics  teaching/training 

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Mary Adams CMC says...
Posted Sunday, March 27, 2011

I agree with what you are saying about client confidentiality. However, I see a dilemma in your suggestion that one use fictional case studies--I think that one would have to disclose that the case is fictional which would diminish its perceived value.

Isn't it possible (and perhaps more credible) to change enough key data about the client to protect confidentiality and explain that the case is based on a real case?

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