1 May 2019 From Everyone for Everyone

Working together on data ethics in practice

Tessel Renzenbrink
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Each organization has a set of values that represents their identity – like a supermarket that focuses on sustainability, or a car manufacturer that prioritizes safety. Those values are clearly recognizable in the physical world, and we can act accordingly. But in the digital domain, it is less easy for us to recognize those core values.

Tessa Wernink and Douwe Schmidt from Bureau Tada work in close collaboration with organizations to help them identify values in the digital domain, and to apply them in practice. To that end, they developed a workshop on Data ethics in practice. The workshop builds on the six principles stated in the Tada manifesto. These six ethical principles create the foundation for ethical use of data. For instance, data use should never result in the exclusion of certain individuals or groups of people. In addition, the personal values of the organization are also included in the workshop, such as sustainability or safety.

Technological applications with societal consequences

“In your dealings with data and technology, your choices will have ethical consequences,” Douwe says. “Decisions that may seem purely technical could have social consequences for your clients or employees. That’s why it is important to recognize that the digital domain is inherently invested with values. That awareness allows you to align your decisions with the core values of your company of organization.”

“During the workshop, we work with cases that the organization has to deal with in actual practice,” Douwe continues. “It is a custom-made workshop tailored to your situation. Participants are taught to recognize ethical dilemmas, discuss them with their colleagues and reach a solution. It is for instance possible that you might conclude that something is technically feasible, within the legal boundaries, but still does not resonate with the identity of your company.”

Decelerate to accelerate

Tessa: “A characteristic feature of data-driven projects is that they are interwoven with the entire organization. People from various departments are involved, for instance IT, Communications and Legal. This means that it is not possible to rely on the manager to oversee the complexity of the entire project. People work in smaller groups on parts of the project. These groups have the knowledge and expertise to make decisions quickly. But that does require trust that the decisions they make will be appropriate for the organization.”

“Discussing things with the entire team at a fundamental level in the initial phase of the project makes it possible to achieve that trust,” Tessa continues. “People gain confidence in their own moral compass, and in their colleagues. We call that ‘decelerate to accelerate’. You take your time in advance, carefully thinking things through to ensure you will not run into any dilemmas that delay the process. It is also a much nicer approach for project team members, since they have been given a vote of confidence and are able to experience agency.”

Read here about how the Data ethics in practice workshop was designed and what you can expect.

Working together on data ethics in practice

Do you or your team experience dilemmas in carrying out data-driven projects? Are you interested in how you could make progress in this area, in a way that corresponds to the core values that your organization represents? Tada is looking for organizations that have tangible cases based on daily practice. By jointly tackling these dilemmas, we work on implementing the values of the responsible digital city in practice.

Contact Tessa and Douwe at info@tada.city to hear how they do that.

The ‘Data ethics in practice’ workshop is one of the products resulting from the partnership between Bureau Tada and the Municipality of Amsterdam. Together, they looked into how they could apply the abstract Tada principles in practice within the municipal organization.

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