Five lessons learned from our ethics roundtable on Digital Inclusion and Using Technology for Social Good

23/11/20, 9:00 am

Businesses acting more ethically, boosts the bottom line and sustains long-term innovation

In a recent Deloitte Access Economics Report, we learnt the direct economic impact ethics has on our society. If businesses and government acted only 10% more ethically, Australia’s economy would be boosted by about $45 billion. The benefits also extend beyond economics, allowing for better equality (social and civic participation), health and employment opportunities.

Acting ethically (thinking and acting upon values that better our communities when making decisions) develops trust. To take advantage of technological innovation, we need robust ethical structures and frameworks if we want to implement and sustain technological growth.

The decline in trust

The last 15 years in Australia has seen growth in public distrust of government and industry. Trust diminishes when the public can see that government bodies, politicians and companies act in their own self-interest, while disregarding public outcomes and social issues.

Technology has to the power to change how we carry our business and live our lives. Developers of technology need to understand that their social responsibilities extend far down the supplier line and into the aftereffects of technology implementation.

Technology can have profoundly negative impacts on society if ethics and social issues are not considered over time. This means consistent review over the lifecycle of a given technology. Social media platforms are a good example of social issues not being adequately addressed. The proliferation of hate speech, the uploading and sharing of violent content and the subversion of the democratic process are some of the negative effects.

The good news is that with an ethical framework and insight in understanding what social issues might need to be considered in technological development and application, we can minimise social harm and risks. If social benefits are central in driving our daily work, we are much more likely to succeed; developing and maintaining trust in the long-term and directly impacting our own economic health and success. When trust is developed and maintained, technology can then be applied more freely (in multiple use cases and different environments) making the most of the benefits technologies have to offer.

We cannot forget that technology companies and their employees are part of civil society. As such, we need to choose and act on maintaining and developing responsible and ethical behaviours, leading us to ethical leadership.

Learning from crises

Crises often expose and exacerbate inequalities in society. They also highlight inadequate services and functions, including leadership and governance structures. While crises force us to come to terms with the consequences of bad governance, economic loss, socioeconomic inequality and service failures (particularly in critical infrastructure) there is always a clear opportunity to do better.

With integrity and compassionate ethical leadership, we have an opportunity to develop trust within our communities. This isn’t easy to do. After all, to do better we must first acknowledge our shortcomings, come face-to-face with loss, trauma and pain in order to really understand the needs of a community and society. However, the prospects of long-term development and the growth of trust within our society, will lead to economic growth and less mandatory compliance structures (restrictions) and governmental oversight (all of which cost an enormous amount of money to establish and enforce) that can work against the development of an industry.

Technology that solves real problems

If technology is to solve community issues, we must first connect with communities. Developers and innovators often skip this when looking to create new solutions. We make assumptions based on our unconscious biases if we do not connect with communities and individuals from outside our immediate micro-social and familial circles. Without meaningful conversations, we the opportunity to see the complexity of issues through the experiences and circumstances of others.

Once we have experienced meaningful interactions with others, we are less likely to see individuals as an ‘inactive audience’, but rather, individuals with complex needs and agency that can and should be making their own choices when interacting with technology. This promotes innovation that matters to people and makes a real positive difference in their lives.

Digital roadmaps and digital inclusion

There has been a real push in recent years for government to venture into digital services. Our governments have embraced digital transformation and are setting formidable goals in becoming global leaders in digital services. This isn’t a bad goal in and of itself, however, we need to ask what the motivator and driver for such a goal is. Citizens of governments are not merely ‘customers’ that can access digital services if they have the right technology at their disposal. New digital services should boost equality and be accessible to all. Otherwise, we will be deepening inequality and the digital divide. We need to be motivated and driven by a desire to not only make government services more convenient, but also accessible to all.

Sylvia Jastkowiak
Senior Consultant, Advisory & Professional Services