Use this page to learn more about tackling one of the biggest obstacles we face when creating digital content, software and services – the way we think.
We create digital tools, campaigns and social media strategies that connect to people’s everyday lives. When this works well it communicates to the viewer, 'You are seen, you are heard, you matter'.
But our life experiences and the way we think can taint this. We embed our values into whatever we create, tweet, and post online, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Unconscious bias is also known as ‘implicit bias’. It's the social stereotypes we have about people who are different to us. For instance because of their race, gender, cultural background, body shape, sexual orientation and class or because they are disabled. It’s one of the biggest obstacles we face when creating digital content, software and services.
We can see this at work in:
When we act on these biases, we tend to exclude people. As we exclude them, we strip them of their humanity and lose our empathy for them. This is known as 'othering' and it makes it easier for us to neglect people’s needs. It leads to alienation, discrimination, marginalisation and oppression.
It’s easy to approach a project with pure intentions but end up producing a final product that has a negative effect on people's lives.
Consider these examples.
Each of these eliminates a whole group of people from engaging in society in the same way as everyone else. We want our digital innovation to improve people’s lives. So we must root out unconscious bias and base our projects in empathy and understanding.
The first place to start is to commit to discovering unconscious bias with some exercises.
Create a safe space for yourself and your team at the start of every project and run this activity.
This helps stimulate a work culture of radical honesty, making space for bias to be talked about openly. By being curious about our assumptions, accepting we don’t need to provide answers, we’re better able to serve all our audiences.
Take these steps.
Jodie wants to roll-out a social media campaign raising awareness about animal cruelty amongst young people. The exercise above makes her realise how concerned she is about the impact of Brexit on animal transport for meat production and if it will be cruel.
At school Jodie remembers her anti-fur campaign and how some of her friends thought it was pointless. Jodie wonders what young people’s biggest concerns are now, are they similar or different? Are they braver or more scared than her? Jodie starts working out what questions she might want to ask young people while she’s planning the campaign.
Studies show that stress and tiredness may ‘increase the likelihood of decisions based on unconscious bias’. This exercise gives us a stress-free space to make sure we don't rush ahead and cause problems.
When we create something for a community, we should include engagement with people from that community. Those who are most at risk of harm from unconscious bias.
When you plan user research, co-design or engagement activities take these steps.
Co-designing helps to avoid unconscious bias. If done well, it means we can be held to account by the people we serve. It means we’ve listened to their expert voice, using it to improve the outcomes of the project in a truly collaborative process. And those we co-design with understand the process and don’t feel patronised or that they’ve been told what to think.
Many people start off in the wrong way when it comes to having conversations about unconscious bias. They hold these unhelpful viewpoints.
Both of these viewpoints are wrong. To tackle unconscious bias in your organisation you’ll need to challenge this thinking.
We asked our digital advisor, Safiya Mckenzie of Comuzi to give us her own perspective on why rooting out unconscious bias matters. Share this with people you want to inspire.
Often in moments of discomfort, we’re brought to an awareness of the things we assume about others. If we wish to live with integrity in our professional lives as well as our personal lives, it is in these moments, that we must stop, pause, and get curious about where these ideas come from. We need to bring these assumptions into our consciousness, and challenge them.
When we design with people instead of for them, we combine the knowledge, creativity and experiences of everyone in the room, which creates the opportunity to make something that is impactful, and long lasting. Assumptions will naturally be challenged and dismissed.
The imagery we use to communicate people’s stories, the way we present information online and the mediums through which people can support our organisation all have the capacity to engage the viewer and recognise their humanity. This can only be achieved when unconscious bias is acknowledged and challenged throughout the whole process of working on a project.
This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021
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