How is Doteveryone’s Consequence Scanning helping Digital Fund grantees build more responsible tech?
Alex Mecklenburg and Kirsty Cameron discuss what ‘responsible technology’ means the difference between Consequence scanning and risk management.
Part of the ambition for the Digital Fund and support partners we have contracted (CAST, Shift, Dotproject, Doteveryone) is to help forge a new social contract between tech and civil society. This means funding and supporting technology that can impact the lives of many for the better.
The Digital Fund has funded for all grantholders to go through a process called “Consequence Scanning” — designed by Doteveryone. This practise helps ensure that grantees are able to look at what impact their digital products, services, platforms and approaches may have on their ecosystem and across all of their stakeholders and to ensure that the product decisions they make and the solutions they consider are responsible.
By understanding what responsible technology means and by using Consequence Scanning to surface intended and unintended consequences, they are able to uncover new ways of thinking about their specific product or innovation. But wait — isn’t this just another name for risk management?
Actually, it’s different — the word ‘consequence’ implies a level of ownership in a way that a risk doesn’t. It means understanding the potential consequences of the tech/solution/product you are proposing. This will allow teams to ensure that the positive consequences are front of mind and to design for active intent.
Consequence Scanning helps organisations to understand where they need to create product principles to enable teams to make deliberate choices about potential trade-offs and to create a collective understanding of responsibility across the whole of the organisation.
Doteveryone has translated the practise of Consequence Scanning into an easy to embed agile event that fits neatly alongside an iterative way of working. The event itself is a short, time-boxed activity and includes as diverse a group of people within the organisation as possible. The greater the diversity of the participants, the greater the breadth of viewpoints which will surface more consequences.
The idea of running these sessions for all Digital Fund grantees as early as possible in their journey is to enable teams to consider what responsible innovation may look like from a wider, strategic perspective as well as provide practical support in guiding teams through the process, enabling them to take the learning and practice back to their own organisations to use going forward.
The sessions have been delivered by Alex Mecklenburg from Doteveryone, part of the The National Lottery Community Fund’s Digital Fund support partners consortium. Across the 29 grantees they’ve run:
- One individual organisation session — including trustees and staff to explore wider issues of responsible technology. This has led to the organisation re-visiting and validating the original tech delivery solution planned, bringing about greater alignment and a clear route forward.
- One theme focused session on mental health which brought four different mental health organisations together to look at issues that are common across this area and thus leveraging learning across a wider audience and ecosystem.
- Four group sessions looking at responsible innovation and how product principles should be aligned to the overall organisation vision, mission, values and principles. Having these product principles in place enables product teams to challenge any requests to make tech perform in a certain way — it enables a set of standards that can be used to really look at whether the tech is behaving in a way that aligns with the organisation’s principles and is promoting positive intended and unintended consequences.
What did the grantees learn from the sessions (in their own words)?
Below you can find some feedback we received from grantholders after taking the Consequence Scanning workshop:
‘practical tools that I can take away and use’
‘the simplicity of considering intended and unintended consequences — so applicable!’
‘how to develop and use product principles’
‘understanding bias/context of assumptions’
‘accountability of the ‘responsibility’ topic and embedding this in our organisation’
We then asked them how they plan to use the insights they’ve gained:
‘Everywhere! So helpful to further our current (difficult) stakeholder discussions. I think this will allow them to explore’
‘To revisit the mission of the charity and map the product principles’
‘To apply the framework for decision making’
‘Using Consequence Scanning at different levels: products, business level, involving trustees to consider consequences to the organisation in terms of organisational impact and sustainability’
And what surprised them the most:
‘the ease and simplicity of the process’
‘The ability to keep the session focussed e.g. not to get bogged down in philosophical debates’
‘the willingness of other organisations to share their experience was brilliant — it doesn’t always happen in our sector’
‘That is is a straightforward process — achievable to implement’
Several grantees have already applied Consequence Scanning within their organisations, running their own sessions and having positive results. We’ll be catching up with the cohort and finding out more about how they are using Consequence Scanning with another post in a few months.