Designing systemically for change in an emerging field of tech ethics

The title of this blog post is how I now talk about “systems change.” It makes much more sense to me to think of the mindset and approach to designing change than it does to suggest “system change” is a thing. Lets face it, how many people and projects can you point at and say “look, it’s system change!”

Systems are always changing, and there is rarely an end point. This is unlike designing a product or service, which even if continually iterated, is more likely to have a “this is done” moment. Designing systemically for change means putting the emphasis on designing how to move forward and experiment with different levers for change, in recognition of root causes, of the nature of complex challenges being interconnected.

It’s sometimes been hard to know how to be useful at Doteveryone — I have never worked in a thinktank before, and never been in such a policy-led rather than design-led environment, so it’s been great to be able to bring my knowledge and practice of a systems approach to our strategy.

Over the last year we’ve been developing work to influence change in three areas, recognising that you need to do work around all three, and knowing that we can’t do this alone.

“Organisations imply that change in a society revolves around them and their program, rather than around a range of interrelated contextual factors, of which their program is part.”

Craig Valters flags

Our levers for change

Through policy and Whitehall

Some of the work we have done and are doing in this area includes:

Launching a digital understanding framework (importantly reframing the need to move beyond digital skills and literacy.)

Setting up a yearly National Digital Attitudes survey that highlights how people feel about technology, rather than just how they use it.

Setting out what is needed in terms of new regulations for the internet.

Building the capacity of government to respond to industry effectively through our digital leadership programme.

Through industry

This is all about changing the practices, incentives and culture of the technology industry itself, and includes.

Setting out 10 principles of “responsible technology.

Launching a Trustworthy Tech programme to prototype how a trustworthy tech system could work. We have used this to narrow down the 10 principles to our “3 C’s of Responsible Technology” and are developing ways for this (as well as new metrics) can be adopted as common practice across industry and investment.

As part of our Making Different Futures programme we are working with Nesta to create an anthology of positive and inspirational science fiction short stories that represent girls and young women with the hope of encouraging them to become the technologists and inventors of inclusive futures.

We’ve developed a diversity tool for small organisations to report on their diversity.

We run our fairer tech grants programme, to highlight good practice in the design of tech events.

We’ve been funded by Omidyar to do field-building work in responsible tech across the UK and Europe. This is really important as the field emerges and I hope we can learn from the tech for good movement.

Through people power

We definitely don’t want to entrench old power by suggesting that the establishment and industry can sort all this. As an organisation we believe in the capacity of people, of networks, of movements to create change. However, this lever for change has been the hardest, because so much of this work currently feels a lot to ask individuals to engage in. Some of what we’ve been trying includes:

Understanding what public engagement could look like in terms of directing the impacts of tech on society and holding the tech industry more to account.

Designing ways for collective action to provide a route for holding industry and government to account rather than making it an individual’s responsibility, through some work with Citizens Advice.

Mainstreaming ideas around digital understanding and digital rights — based on data from our survey and in partnership with a big media platform (soon to be announced), we’re launching a “digital public health” campaign, not dissimilar to a public service announcement or the function that Public Health England plays.

Shining a light on potential levers for change, to show where alternatives are needed, like this work on the portability of workers ratings, which is a far wider issue than solely their individual rights.

Looking at the role of public institutions at a time when people are starting to realise that whilst the internet has been good for us an individuals, it hasn’t been so good for society. This also includes doing work that strengthens the relationships between public institutions and citizens and we will be announcing some work with the Office of Civil Society on this shortly.

From the Doteveryone Digital Attitudes Survey

Our Fellowships programme is still in its infancy but the thinking behind this is that who you curate as a network around your organisation, and the content that you publish from them, says a lot about the questions you are asking, what you value, and also helps to build a wider pool of people to keep thinking through things with.

In this programme of work we recognise that we are just at the start, as a community, of understanding the impacts of technology on society. We need better evidence but we also need more intentional connecting and translating across academia and the social sciences (where a lot of this knowledge is currently held), the social sector, and the technology industry. In July we are running a one day event called Society-in-the-loop to bring these communities together and will continue to do this kind of convening.

I love the Algorithmic Justice league’s levers for change —

If you are interested in any of the work we are doing, want to find out more or want to get involved, please get in touch on [email protected]