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Ethics by Design: New Report Helps Companies Move Beyond Compliance

  • Report integrates psychology and behavioural economics findings with in-depth interviews to provide business, academics and civil society leaders with a set of comprehensive recommendations to build and use technology more ethically and responsibly
  • Report indicates that organizations that use technology ethically consider the potential harm to humans and society at every stage of their decision-making processes

San Francisco, USA, 10 December 2020 – The World Economic Forum today launched a new report that outlines how organizational leaders can influence their companies and encourage the responsible use of technology and build ethical capacity.

“Ethics by Design” – An Organizational Approach to Responsible Use of Technology integrates psychology and behavioural economics findings from interviews and surveys with international business leaders. It aims to shape decisions to prompt better and more ethical behaviours. The report promotes an approach that focuses less on individual “bad apples” and more on the “barrel”, the environments that can lead people to engage in behaviours contrary to their moral compass. The report outlines steps and makes recommendations that have proven more effective than conventional incentives such as compliance training, financial compensation or penalties.

“Ethics will be crucial to the success of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The ethical challenges will only continue to grow and become more prevalent as machines advance. Organizations across industries – both private and public – will need to integrate these approaches.” said Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum.

The implementation of technology can be complex when all aspects of its potential effects are considered. The report aims to guide the conversation and implementation of technology for positive impacts on society. Over the past eight years, the technology sector has experienced a steeper decline in trust compared to any other sector. Technology development cannot be done in a vacuum; its social impact has to be taken into consideration.

There are three critical components to this comprehensive approach:

  • Attention: Timely, refocused attention on the ethical implications of the technology. Attention techniques and examples include reminders, checklists and frequent ethics refresher training – focus on methodology.
  • Construal: Individuals interpret their work in ethical terms. Construal techniques and examples include the deliberate use of ethically freighted language in mission statements – emphasis on culture. Leaders are responsible for promoting ethical decisions by providing the corporation’s vision, purpose and values. Companies have found success by framing issues beyond purely legal or regulatory compliance terms.
  • Motivation: Encouraging pro-social actions, setting social “norm nudges” and other culture-changing activities can be used to promote ethical behaviours. The culture of organizations positively influences motivation. It can be best sustained through robust, self-reinforcing incentives and operational structures, such as conscious community building within and across company teams and programmes to showcase ethically exemplary employees.

“Deloitte, working with the World Economic Forum and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, sees this as a crucial time for organizations reliant on emerging technologies. Recent advances provide business opportunities but also leave many organizations struggling to make ethical decisions around the use of technology that are true to their organizational values, often leading to unintended consequences," said Beena Ammanath, Executive Director, Deloitte AI Institute and Trustworthy and Ethical Technology. "This report will not only help organizations identify those challenges, but, using behavioural science as a foundation, enable leaders to build and maintain frameworks for technology ethics that put human values first."

“The report is a wonderful example of blending insights and research to identify models organizations can use to help employees learn and be comfortable with ethical principles,” said Don Heider, Executive Director, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. “Executives will find practical, specific recommendations enabling their organizations to be intentional in their efforts to embed ethical thinking into their cultures and their practices.”

The research was supplemented by in-depth interviews with organizational executives spanning seven countries. Findings from these interviews are summarized in the report as illustrative examples of ethical behaviour with technology in action. The report is part of the Organizational Design workstream of the World Economic Forum’s Responsible Use of Technology initiative.

Notes to editors

Read more about Responsible Use of Technology initiative

View Forum photos

Visit the Strategic Intelligence page on Artificial Intelligence

Read the Forum Agenda also in French | Spanish | Mandarin | Japanese

Follow the Forum on Twitter via @wef @davos | Instagram | LinkedIn | TikTok | Weibo | Podcasts

Become a fan of the Forum on Facebook

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Learn about the Forum’s impact

Subscribe to Forum news releases and Podcasts

 

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