October 26, 2018

Ethics and equity: unstructured notes

Earlier this week, I had the honor or chatting with the current cohort of Code for Canada fellows about ethics and equity in the design of government digital services.

I took some notes from my chat, which focused on how to think like a social scientist and center ethics from the start of a project, and wanted to share them somewhere I won’t lose them; I’m sharing them here. (The notes don’t quite make sense on their own, but if you’re interested in some of the concepts I addressed, you can find a jumble of thoughts below.

Ethics and Equity in Government Digital Service Design

Research ethics in the social sciences

  1. minimize risk of harm
  2. obtain informed consent
  3. protect anonymity and confidentiality
  4. avoid deceptive practices (dark patterns)
  5. provide right to withdraw

Important things to remember

Abandon the idea of neutrality

  • We are not neutral, we can’t aspire to be
  • Shaped by our experience and context

Ensure diversity in both users for research, but also in design teams that do the research and build solutions

Build for the edges

  • What does it mean to explore the edges?
  • How do you discover the edge when you’re in the middle

Collect information responsibility

  • privacy vs. transparency
  • capture what you need based on your ends, but also be clear about your ends

Remember that you are a user too

  • government services are used by everyone, not just customers”
  • there is no other option, no competitor product

Don’t hide accountability

  • people should know who to call, who is responsible
  • right to withdraw: there has to be other options

Be honest about your failures and when things didn’t work—especially when you have made the problem worse

  • is the outcome a win for the government, the team building the product, or the user?

Publicly state your code of ethics

  • promote an ethical culture
  • ensure your partners adhere to that code