6 things we’ve learned about responsible tech advocates

The common attitudes and behaviours of self-identified ‘responsible advocates’.

Image of 3-min Lightning Talk participants at Responsible Tech 2019 on Thurs 31 January. Credit: Paul Clarke

Doteveryone wants more people to enter the growing responsible technology conversation. But keeping it as an intangible ethical discussion will mean many remain disinterested. To make it a little more real, Rachel Coldicutt, Sam Brown and their team have begun to develop a practical approach to embed responsible decision making in the product development process.

Those who were at #ResponsibleTech19 saw the first fruits of their labour, and you can follow the most recent developments on the TechTransformed platform.

Images from Responsible Tech 2019 on Thurs 31 January. Left: Lanyards and delegate badges at registrations. Right: the premiere of Doteveryone’s Agile event. Credit: Paul Clarke

But with established behaviours to change, and attitudes to shift, knowing where to focus your attention and which levers to pull to nudge people in the right direction becomes critical.

This is where Albion came in. Over the course of a month at the end of 2018, we conducted 15 hours of interviews with members of the broader tech community alongside Doteveryone to help shape the future of their programme and grow the understanding of those working in the field.

We know there are many self-identified ‘responsible advocates’ (here simply defined as those warm to a discussion centred on responsible technology), in a number of different roles; from ‘Big four’ consultants to charity-focused UX designers, start-up founders to corporate CIOs.

But we wanted to dig a little deeper, to understand more about them, their challenges and their successes. Specifically, we were looking to uncover:

  1. The relative importance they place on adopting a ‘responsible’ approach to product development and the rationale behind such a decision
  2. The methods (if any) they are using to introduce such an approach to their work

Here, and in a subsequent post, we’re sharing some of what we found.

What we know about Responsible Tech advocates

1. There is no one type of ‘Responsible Advocate’

Everyone we spoke to expressed a desire to improve the responsibility of their products, but precisely where in their hierarchy of motivation this comes and who they think is ultimately responsible can differ greatly.

“Facebook are the spawn of the Devil, I can’t believe what they get away with” [CTO]

“We’ve begun to implement an ‘accessibility’ framework, championed by the UX team” [UX Lead]

Motivation hierarchy and perspective on responsibility prove very useful for separating the perspective of advocate sub-groups, something we’ll explore in more detail in our next post.

2. There are no easy answers

Responsible advocates also recognise that because of the nature of the discussion, as with any morally-motivated decisions, there will be no easy answers. What is right for one organisation will not necessarily be right for the next. As such, it becomes critical to the success of any approach to take this into consideration

“It’s a difficult conversation to have unless the company has decided what [Responsible Technology] means to them” [Start-up Accelerator]

“Feel like these digital products are basically just ether — it’s hard to quantify” [Start-up Founder]

3. There’s been a lot of talk, but little action

There is a feeling, particularly amongst those most embedded in the conversation, that as the field of responsible technology has grown, there’s been plenty of chat, but very little in the way of action. They make the observation that interest in the subject has been on the rise, but there’s now a sense of determination to actually take the first step and make the changes necessary.

“There’s lots of talk at a principles level…innovators are crying out for practicalities” [Start-up Founder]

“You don’t really know where to start” [UX Lead]

4. There’s an appetite for tools

But exactly what that first step looks like, no one is quite sure. As such, there is a huge appetite for tools, no matter how simple, that will allow them to, at the very least, make a start. They know there is a lot to do, they just need the confidence to get going.

“We need to switch from the abstract to the practical” [Product Design Lead]

“…there’s somewhere they can start that will make them at least a bit better than where they are now, and they can ramp up from there” [Consultant]

5. There’s power in the collective experience

As you might expect in a constantly developing sector, there is a huge premium placed on learning from the experiences of (relevant) others. Whether that is direct peer-to-peer knowledge sharing or simply the reassurance that comes from knowing that ‘someone like me’ has done this before. There’s power in the collective experience and this must be recognised if any framework is to be broadly adopted.

“It feels like it’s coming from people who know about the work and what it means in practice, it’s been stress tested for what it means for day to day” [Start-up Founder]

“The more it’s used, the more credibility it has” [CIO]

6. There will be cultural constraints

Finally, it is critical to realise that the drive for responsibility does not exist in a vacuum. Within businesses at all stages of growth, there will be trade-offs to be made. As such, despite an individual or organisation’s best intentions, the level of responsibility possible will be restricted by cultural constraints. Those for whom responsibility is intuitive will always find it easier than those for whom it is simply a layer of process.

Where next?

Establishing these shared perspectives provide solid foundations to build on. But to provide the most helpful direction, we need to understand more about how the needs of these responsible advocates differ. That is where we’ll focus our attention next in our post ‘How responsible should you be for responsibility?’

If you work in the sector and are interested in helping to shape this field from the beginning, please sign up to take part in an interview on Responsible Technology.

About Doteveryone

Doteveryone is an independent think tank that explores how technology is changing society, shows what responsible technology can look like, and builds communities to improve the way technology shapes our world.

We want industry to build technology that considers its impact on society, we want the public to have a greater voice in shaping technologies and we want policymakers to make informed and responsible decisions about the ways we use technology.

Doteveryone has created TechTransformed — new methods and resources that will transform how technology teams create products and services.

6 things we’ve learned about responsible tech advocates was originally published in Doteveryone on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.