Making: How to Talk about Ethics?
| December 18, 2019
From the start, VIRT-EU has been committed to co-create its tool kit through iteration and developer engagement. In doing so, VIRT-EU’s consortium has lead workshops and other meetups at the intersection of industry, research and policymaking where we have tested our project outcomes
In order to make our process accessible, here we will describe some of the iterations that we conducted when shaping our workshop: The VIRT-EU Sandbox: how to talk about ethics?
The process: How to talk about ethics?
The workshop was designed to involve a broader audience at events that bring together technology developers and people from outside the technical world. Throughout the VIRT-EU project, we engaged in a lot of industry-oriented events and conferences. The audiences at such events were often diverse and wanting to engage in vigorous debates about the possibilities IoT offers as well as about the threats it represents.
Over the course of three years, discussions of ethics have gone from excitement to a sense of fatigue, where ethics has slowly become a term few bother to define but many hold up as “something important”. Many developers and designers in our co-design workshops and subsequent user-testing of our initial tools, wanted more substance in discussions about ethics and more foundation in the kinds of philosophical and theoretical frameworks that underlie ethics as a term. Many complained that discussions about ethics felt naïvebut that they themselves lacked much familiarity with what it was all about. Thus our final workshop we designed to engage diverse audiences in thinking about ethics, challenging their comfort zones and preconceptions, and to offer a basic introduction to ethical theory.
How it works
The workshop first invites participants to imagine that they are part of a design team at a small company and have been charged to make a design decision that will decide much for the product the company is developing. The audience is then repeatedly challenged to take different issues into account as they debate the decision. While the decision itself is never actually finalized, the discussions that arise from the positions participants take are about the relationship between the high ideals of ethical conduct and the realities of what it takes to develop IoT technologies and to survive as a small company. As participants wind down their debates, the workshop shifts towards discussing what ethical theories underlying each issue they have been forced to take into account. This is an opportunity to demonstrate ethics as a process and ethical frameworks as lenses that focus on some things but intentionally ignore others. We offer our participants our own take on ethics and present the VIRT-EU ethical framework as a potential answer to the limitations of each ethical theory on its own. We originally developed this workshop for the Techfestival in Copenhagen and tested it there in 2019. We made changes to the original design and brought the new version to MozFest 2019 in London.
The final iteration was presented at ThingsCon 2019 in Rotterdam where our participants included designers, developers, students and even commissioners who attended the conference. We documented workshop iterations by creating publicly available video narratives. This workshop works well with small groups of 10-15 people but can scale easily up to 40-50 people, making it a good fit for a variety of contexts
ThingsCon 2019 video documentation