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Introduction from the authors

Explore thought leadership, tools and practical insights to support local public service organisations championing leading-edge practices in the ethical use of emerging technologies and data as part of their wider digital placemaking and service transformation activities.

Authors and contributors: Martin Ferguson, Jos Creese

Place-based digital ethics

The unprecedented rise of smart information systems impacts increasingly on ethics and human rights issues. AI and robotics are already widely adopted but, until recent high-profile incidents, often go largely unnoticed. Coupled with the introduction of these technologies is the ability to leverage better insights from the burgeoning amounts of data that they generate. Our responsibility in the public sector should be to prepare for the changes that result from the use and application of these technologies, using data in a more meaningful way and ensuring that we are embracing these capabilities to make improvements in public service delivery and outcomes.

As a consequence, the need to understand and promote the ethical use of emerging technologies and the data they generate and store has never been more important. We need to embed ethical resilience at the very heart of our response to these unprecedented digitally-driven opportunities and challenges.

We need to improve our digital capabilities internally and grow our workforce competencies. We also need to prepare and redesign our services, so that the whole of society can benefit with better outcomes from these revised practices and ways of working. Above all, we need to design, develop, deploy and deliver place-based solutions and services that are built around core values of doing good not harm, human rights, justice, fairness, trust and transparency.

This calls for more than just a tick-list approach. Local public services need to understand the wider ethical landscape and champion digital ethical practice at the very heart of place-based approaches to responsible use of technology and data for public good.

Above all, it requires us to understand and promote the ethical use of emerging technologies; proactively looking afresh at how we use the data they generate and store, and the public service designs, processes and interactions they enable. We need to consider how all this applies to the outcomes generated and how we can ensure public benefit by successfully addressing societal challenges, supporting planetary sustainability and minimising unintended consequences, as advocated in Kate Raworth’s concept of Doughnut Economics.

Socitm’s five key policy themes are presented visually below, by reference to the doughnut framework. A central pillar is the theme of ethical use of emerging technologies and data, which includes our digital ethics collection.

Socitm's ethical, digital, place-making model
Image: Socitm’s ethical, digital, place-making model. Download this graphic as pdf

Our digital ethics collection

In support of these responses, Socitm has developed this digital ethics practice collection on its resource hub.

The Socitm digital ethics collection is built around our downloadable digital ethics briefing which offers insights into understanding the digital ethics agenda, principles, standards, tools and guidance. All of which inform the five-core attributes of ethical practice – Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, Autonomy, Justice and Explicability which the guide outlines in more detail.

The online collection extends and supplements the digital ethics briefing materials by providing a comprehensive thematic library of the latest online digital ethics resources we have curated to help you navigate the agenda and offer the user an opportunity to dig deeper into specific subjects and draw on the resources to help shape their strategies and approaches to assessing and adopting emerging technology and data analytics.

Follow these links to dig deeper into specific subjects and draw on the resources to help shape your wider approach to assessing and adopting emerging technology and data analytics:

  1. Understanding digital ethics: Introduces the key aspects of the ethical design, use and application of technology and data in wider society.
    • Digital ethics in context: Outlines the inter-connection of Ethics by Design, Ethics of Use and Societal Ethics
    • Ethics by design: Looking at the design phase ethics of digital and data tools
    • Ethics of use: Examines the ethics of how people use the technological resources at their disposal
  2. Ethical principles and core values: Outlines the digital ethics principles and resources being developed across the international community
  3. Ethical leadership: Outlines wider ethical based approaches that leaders; policy makers and practitioners can apply to support the use of emerging technologies and data.
    • Public standards and ethical practice: Outlining the Principles of Public Life, Local Government Ethical Standards, Local Government Ombudsman’s Code and the core Ethical Standards for Providers.
    • Governance and values: Highlighting the Principles for Good Governance in the Public Sector and the skills required to support public value outlining how they relate to the wider social value agenda.
    • Professional ethics: Covering the key ethical codes for Local Public Service Senior Managers with the related professional codes of conducts for Technology, Statistical and Data Science professionals
    • Ethical decision making: Sets out the basic framework and flow chart for making ethical decisions, and how individuals and organisations can apply ethical decision-making techniques and questions
    • Responsible use and design Covering the latest emerging guidance as to how local public service leaders can make ethical decisions around the use and design of technologies and data.
  4. Attributes of ethical practice: Outlines the core attributes of digital ethical practice
  5. Standards, guidance and tools: Drawing together a range of emerging standards, guidance and tools
    • Emerging technical standards: Emerging international standards for ‘Ethically Aligned Design’ smart information systems/Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.
    • Emerging guidance: Emerging strategic guidance on ethical the use of data and AI, developed by government and public sector bodies.
    • Emerging tools: Drawing together a range of ethical decision-making tools and practical tools for ethical design.
    • Glossary: Glossary of resources on the ethical use of emerging technologies and data.

Relevant Socitm resources