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Digital Ethics: Why putting people & values at the centre of your strategy matters now more than ever

by Jen Rodvold - Head of Digital Ethics & Tech for Good | minutes read

The world today is, in many ways, unrecognisable from the world we inhabited only weeks ago.  In an astonishingly short span of time, many of us have been cut off from our loved ones, and perhaps even lost people we care about. 

I imagine what this crisis would be like if it had happened 20, or even just 10 years ago.  Not only would our public health officials not have the data and communication technology we are relying on for up to-date information and effective public health policy, the isolation we must uphold now would be even more unbearable for us all, and for some it would be devastating.  While serious digital exclusion persists and must be addressed, many individuals, families and organisations have almost instantaneously invented new ways to keep life going as best we can using technology.  We are meeting for team coffees, having pizza birthday parties with family, and joining pub quizzes with friends, finding online resources to help with home schooling – all virtually.  It is evidence of human compassion and persistence in the face of challenge.

As digital technology becomes even more central to our lives and work, there is an even greater imperative for us to design and manage it with care.  There is a risk that in the face of crisis we will eschew certain standards and our responsibility to create and use technology for the greater good, not just now but in the longer term as well. 

When we return from the crisis, we will be returning to a world that uses more technology, not less.  That means that the ethical challenges that existed before the pandemic will be accelerated unless we have laid the groundwork and equipped ourselves to make better decisions.

For this reason, our Digital Ethics framework, introduced here, is even more timely. In it, we describe the drivers for addressing Digital Ethics.  We also introduce the 7 categories of technology-driven ethical impacts that organisations can use as a lens to help them identify risks and establish their own principles and strategies.

What we’re experiencing today will have ramifications for all 7 categories, and organisations must be prepared to start addressing the challenge. Some questions that leaders can ask themselves to help shape their organisation’s principles include:

  • How are we using technology now where we weren’t using it before?  Which of these ways do we want to keep and why?
  • Have we been as transparent as we would wish to be in normal circumstances (e.g. about data collected, decision-making)?
  • Have we done enough to protect privacy in all the new initiatives?
  • Have we ensured fair access to services, and checked for unintended discrimination or bias?
  • What can we do now to re-skill or up-skill our workforce and avoid redundancies while continuing to modernise?
  • What are we doing to protect our people from social isolation?
  • How can we use our resources and capabilities to address social issues now and in the future?

While Digital Ethics is a complex area, there are things we can all do now, using the information and experiences we have as a result of the crisis to support our decision making.  And in the end, some things we knew to be true before the pandemic will remain: organisations that demonstrate sustainable and ethical principles do better than those that do not.

At Sopra Steria, we want to use technology as a force for good, contributing to a positive future and improving people’s lives.

 

Read our New Whitepaper

Learn about our approach to Digital Ethics and how we work with our clients to place ethics at the heart of their change programmes, in our latest whitepaper Digital Ethics: breaking down complexity to enable practical action.’

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