Corporate Digital Responsibility: Principles to guide progress
Over the past two years our work in the Scientific Community has explored the implications of the ever-increasing pace of technological change on society. What we have found is that this is most acutely felt by those that are left behind by the latest technologies; those that feel worry towards online banking, that feel uncomfortable with having a voice device in their bedroom or that are resistant to social media. We have coined this disparity of comfort towards technology as being the new Digital Divide in our society.
However, through exploring the Digital Divide, and the role organizations can play in addressing the distress and distrust that technology may cause, we have uncovered a broader concept – one that spans the breadth of technology’s impact on society – Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR).
CDR is about recognizing that the organizations driving forward the advancement of technology, and those that leverage technology to engage and provide services to the citizen, have a responsibility to do so in a manner that is fundamentally leading us toward a positive future.
It is in no-one’s interest to constrain the bursts of technological innovation that we see without good reason for doing so. Corporate Digital Responsibility is a fusion of ethical considerations at the individual and societal level, with recognition that technological change can spawn both utopian and dystopian futures. CDR seeks to find the balance, and guide our progress toward a technological landscape that works for us all.
What is it that we, as a society, are trying to achieve through the advancement of technology?
Through the 2017 Global Digital Inclusion Survey we were able to capture a point-in-time view of what a sample of 1500 people across 63 countries felt toward the latest and future technologies. In doing so, we gained insight into the underlying factors that guide our decision-making – that gut instinct which guides our perception of what technology comes as a threat and what comes as a benefit.
By extension, we might hypothesize that these factors guide our understanding of what characterizes a positive future for our society. They are as follows:
- Time and value
- Health and Privacy
Time and Value
Technologies that save us time bring us closer to enjoyment, vibrancy and the highlights of our daily lives. Technologies that add value augment our lives with new capabilities and benefits that we did not envisage previously. Combined, these factors enhance our standard of living and the richness of our lives.
Health & Privacy
These two factors account for our physical and virtual well-being. Technology has undeniably improved our standards of health where applied, yet it is also a threat to our health, predominantly at a mental and subliminal level. Privacy is a conflicting concept in the development of the online world, where our openness and engagement with others on online forums often leaves us open to intrusive practices. Yet the fundamental right to have control over one’s privacy and virtual-self should be maintained.
At the core of these two concepts is one that pervades everything we do – the feeling of Trust toward the new and the existing. Technology that brings efficiencies, value, health and privacy achieve nothing if it does not also invoke trust. This feeling can be encouraged, and built over time, but it is hugely dependent upon our social contexts and our own beliefs and principles.
For society, and for the individual
What finally became evident through the Survey was a recognition that the implications of technology matter for both the individual and their own personal considerations, as well as our broader society and how we can be engaged, influenced and manipulated at scale.
Finding the balance
From the above we can build a picture of what society is striving to achieve through the advancement of technology. It is toward this broader objective that we may define the principles that will guide digital strategies and the design of digital products and services in the years to come.
In the diagram below, we have mapped concepts against our definition of what society seeks to enable through its digitization:
Helping individuals to manage their usage of technologies, particularly associated with social media and gaming. Digital products and services can be addictive and excessive usage can be adverse for our health and lifestyle.
Preventing the use of online content to manipulate individuals by influencing their subconscious perceptions, attitudes and decisions whether for financial, political or any other gain.
Here there is a fine balance to be tread where ‘traditional’ advertising methods turn into subliminal coercion. The distinction must lie in where the organization’s purpose is to mislead the consumer for a purpose that would garner distrust if fully understood.
Ensuring that individuals have control over who has access to their data, for what purpose it is used and are aware of the value they are receiving in return for granting access. Beyond the GDPR standards, we may consider that this is not an absolute standard - there are better and worse applications of this principle while remaining compliant.
Where employed roles are automated; ensuring that the humans who are no longer needed in those roles are moved into new roles, and that humans retain value in the future. If we are to truly understand and anticipate the rates of unemployment through automation across our society, organizations must start to publish their policies on retraining and redeploying employees that are subject to robotic automation, and publish their rates of redundancies to the same end.
Digital Touchpoints with the citizen (i.e. customer channels), and new forms of digital transaction (i.e. payment methods, election voting) should be integrated into society in an inclusive manner that engender comfort and trust in all individuals. Digital product and service policies should encourage fair and broad adoption, and progress should be measured against this standard.
Those who abstain from the digital world should be given the option to do so and the freedom to make that decision.
Ensuring that digital goods and services are made accessible by those of all abilities and disabilities.
7.Unbiassed Artificial Intelligence
Ensuring that the data feeding the development of Artificial Intelligence does not contain inherent bias that subverts the guidance from a neutral standpoint. There is an open question around to what extent AI-based decision making should retain the characteristic of being interpretable and understandable, rather than being left to function using its ‘own’ logic.
Digital products and services should be characterized by taking the complexity out of our daily lives, enabling us to experience more, strive to take new opportunities and build new social relationships. To that end, the very purpose of the digital product or service along with its human-centric UX design, becomes the barometer for success.
Application in Organizations
In the future, we anticipate that Corporate Digital Responsibility will become a differentiator for organizations, both in the consumer and employee marketplace, just as Corporate Social Responsibility is treated today. In order to progress this concept to that level of maturity, we need to define how we can measure success against set criteria for each principle.
What seems clear is that these criteria should amount to an auditable measurement of an organization’s policies and processes that promote and govern the right behaviors in the delivery of products and services. Only at this strategic policy level can organizations bring about real-change by embedding best-practice into their culture. The digital products and services produced by that organization will often become the most visible parameter of successful delivery of good policy, or otherwise.
We hope you will join us in defining these parameters, to help us ensure the world understands just how much Corporate Digital Responsibility means for all of us. Reach out to Rob Price or I to get involved.