The Phronesis Foundation was set up by Co-directors Dr Merv Conroy and Associate Professor Cathy Hale with support from Dr Aisha Malik, Dr Chris Turner and Dr Richard Bosworth who are Associates. All five have experience of ethics and decision making through their roles in the NHS, the care sector and universities. Their work included education and support of healthcare leaders and professionals at all career stages.
All five have heard professionals expressing their struggles in making ethical decisions that they felt were good and wise. This is what inspired them to set up a research project called Phronesis and the Medical Community. They frequently experienced healthcare professionals at all levels becoming disillusioned with practices that did not allow them to follow a desire and motivation to care for others. For example, decisions resulting in people coming back into hospital or social care many times and conversely people returning home without the right support being available for them. Tragically, they also knew of people dying through inappropriate care or suicide rather than ethical decision making that could have saved lives and prevented devastating impacts on family and community.
The research aimed to improve decision making so that these and many other ethical issues did not become a continuous series of déjà vus for these professionals and the communities they serve. In the four-five years of research and evaluation a pathway and a set of supporting resources to improve ethical decision making have been produced. Therefore, all five founders of 'The Phronesis Foundation' felt that the timing was right to support professionals and organisations that are keen to use the resources to improve their ethical decision making. The formation of the ‘The Phronesis Foundation’ is for anyone with an interest in making a difference to the way they make ethical decisions for individuals and their communities.
The overall mission for the foundation is to make a difference by engaging with practices, starting with but not limited to medical practice, in a quest that cultivates virtues of practices with a purpose or telos of wellbeing for all in society. To achieve this phronesis is used as the theoretical foundation of the work and hence the name. The particular form of phronesis referred to is the concept of practical wisdom gained from previous ethical decisions and actions and applied to navigate a way through the many virtues applicable to the situations under consideration. The original research collected many accounts and observations of doctors which conveyed what it means to them to make ethical decisions including situations when they felt the decision was not ethical for whatever reason. By drawing on those stories as a whole, fifteen main virtues were found and conveyed in a film series and a wisdom wheel app which showcased the doctors' ‘collective practical wisdom’.
The ethos of supporting the use of these resources is to offer them as a non-prescriptive moral debating resource for reflection and discussion. In this way they can be used and adapted to create the virtues applicable to the practice and situation under consideration by those using them. This has already been done in a series of evaluated pilots and was found to work well. Users reported that it improved their ethical decision making approach. Our further ethos arises from the resources being developed using UK Research Council funding at the Universities of Birmingham, Warwick, Nottingham and Cumbria – in other words public sector funding. The foundation is only interested, therefore, in covering staff and expenses costs for supporting the training offered and for maintaining the resources. Any funding beyond that will be put into research to grow the application potential to wider healthcare and other practices which contribute to the wellbeing of society. The underlying approach of focusing on practice virtue ethics, which has an inherent aim of serving human and community flourishing, aligns with the 'not for profit' organisational status of the Foundation. We have a fully registered trading subsidiary called Phronesis Research and Development Ltd. to contract with organisations and allow us to manage the commercial aspects related to the provision of the services below.
The research on which ‘The Phronesis Foundation’ is based asked the question ‘What does it mean to the medical community to make good/ wise/ ethical decisions for patients and their communities?’ The further question was ‘Can the findings gathered from asking this question be used to cultivate phronesis (practical wisdom) in decision making?’ The answer to this second question, based on a full year of pilot impact and engagement evaluations was a resounding ‘Yes’. As a result the Foundation is now in a position to offer the learning and approach developed from this work in the following forms:
We also have a smart phone app in development and available soon which can be used by anybody in any practice to support their ethical decision making.
Whether you are a medical student, fully trained medic, allied health professional, healthcare manager, medical ethics educator or a leader from another sector wanting your organisation to make better ethical decisions, this offer will help you. Ethical decision-making can reduce risks, minimise damage and create value for the organisation and those they serve. Furthermore, organisations with a strong ethical standpoint are more likely to attract a new generation of ethically-minded service/product users and job seekers. The added complexity of the COVID-19 context makes this highly relevant right now because many people have already been impacted by decisions which they perceive as unhelpful.
Prices for all the resource packages are available on request and range from £500 per person for a CPD programme. We are glad to discuss bespoke coaching/ training/ CPD and research projects which suit your interests.
We are based at the Lancaster University Health Innovation One Campus.
This offers a state-of-the-art facility for us to work with researchers and other partners on ethical decision making for medical and other health practitioners. Health and care research, innovation and medical education are at the forefront of the HI1 mission where academics will work with cross-sector partners on systems and products which improve health outcomes. The Phronesis Foundation will be hosted at HI1 and be launching a roll out of our ethical decision making resources and services initially in the NW and then expanding to work with other organisations across the UK and internationally.
If you are interested in finding out more or just wanting to start using the approach and resources then these are four possible options: