Standard 1.3 of The Architects Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice (the Code) provides guidance for architects on disclosing conflicts of interest to affected parties. Under the Code, architects are required to ensure that where conflicts arise they are disclosed in writing and are managed to the satisfaction of all affected parties.
When engaged to provide architectural services it is of absolute importance that you act with independence, integrity and in the best interests of your client above all others. It is similarly important when you are engaged to act between parties or when giving advice that you use impartial and independent professional judgement.
What is a conflict of interest?
A conflict of interest can arise when your ability to exercise judgement is seen to be impaired or otherwise influenced by your role in another relationship.
You might have a professional duty to a number of parties, have personal interests that are affected by the delivery of your professional obligations or may receive a personal or professional benefit as a result of a relationship.
Conflicts are not purely financial in nature and can be potential as well as actual. You should be aware of situations that others may see as being a conflict, even if you do not perceive it as one. A familiarity or long-standing relationship with a contractor, receiving gifts or hospitality from a business, handling confidential information, or having a close association with an individual who has an interest in a supplier (e.g. a spouse/partner or close relative) could all be seen as conflicts.
Declaring a conflict of interest plays a vital role in ensuring that you are acting with honesty and integrity as a professional person.
What should you do to manage conflicts?
Some activities, such as design and build, have inevitable and inescapable conflicts. You cannot provide both independent consulting and contracting services. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this arrangement, proper management of conflicts is of the upmost importance.
Be honest and transparent about the conflict. Most lay clients will be ignorant of the potential ramifications of the conflict, so it is your responsibility to outline the advantages and disadvantages of proceeding with any course of action. Make a written open declaration to all parties and ensure you receive informed consent in writing before continuing to act. This declaration should be made at the time of engagement if conflicts are known, and during the course of the engagement if they arise unexpectedly. Where consent in writing is not received, you should cease acting for one or more of the parties.
Formalising your processes for managing conflicts can ensure they are addressed appropriately and managed effectively. Consider keeping a register of interests for yourself and any employees that is regularly reviewed and made readily available.
If the declaration of a conflict has any contractual implications, ensure a written variation is agreed with the party concerned. If it gives rise to a dispute, approach this courteously and professionally, and consider whether alternative methods of dispute resolution may help settle any issues.
Why is managing conflicts important?
Whether the conflicts are actual, perceived or potential, managing them effectively helps to build trust with your clients and strengthens your professional relationships. It minimises the risk of issues arising as a result of a conflict and assists you in maintaining your own reputation as well as the reputation of your profession.
Glossary of Terms
Actual conflict of interest
There is a real conflict between professional duties and interests
Conflict of duty
Arises when a person is required to fulfill two or more roles that may actually, potentially or be perceived to be in conflict with each other
Permission granted as a voluntary choice, having been supplied with full knowledge of the possible consequences
Potential conflict of interest
This refers to circumstances where it is foreseeable that a conflict may arise in future and steps should be taken now to mitigate that future risk
Perceived conflict of interest
Clients or a third party could form the view that interests could improperly influence decisions or actions, now or in the future