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Consequence scanning when you work with technology

Using consequence scanning to spot challenges

If you’re a charity and a social good organisation you’ll be working hard for the public good. It means you’ll be at an advantage when you develop online services and manage community data. Your good practice encourages good practices.

Consequence scanning will help you spot any ethical risks in your digital and technology based services. It’s a process that:

  • is a type of risk assessment
  • improves your product, activity or service development process
  • makes you stop and think about the impact of your decisions
  • helps prevent negative or unintended outcomes
  • identifies opportunities where you can create a positive impact.

How to get started with consequence scanning.

  • Collect a diverse team with a wide range of characteristics. Include people who represent the community you want to support.
  • Set out a project, outline its purpose and who it wants to make a difference to.
  • Explain how it will make that difference.
  • Map out the answers to the consequence scanning questions below.
  • Do this visually, where everyone can easily look over everything and reflect.

Consequence scanning questions

Start with the positives

  • How could your product, service or business most positively impact the world you want to see?
  • How will the world be better for having this innovation?

Then consider the immediate negatives

  • Could any element of your product or activity harm someone directly?

Then look for indirect harm

  • Could it be used to commit a crime?
  • Could the business model or fundraising harm someone or a group of people? Could it fuel addiction? Could it impact certain people in different ways, for instance children, older people, minority groups, the disenfranchised or disempowered?
  • Are you putting anyone’s privacy at risk? What happens if someone’s data gets leaked, hacked, or lost? Do you have a plan in place for these contingencies? How can you best build trust?
  • Are you planning on doing anything within the product or activity without telling the people involved? If so, why are you not sharing this information explicitly? Would it pose a risk to your organisation if that information showed up in tomorrow’s news?

Ask your board to consider the organisation’s ethical values and how they prioritise them.

Consequence scanning beyond the questions

With these answers you can start to reduce your risks. This is a process similar to any other type of risk assessment.

  • What steps can you take to help prevent unintended consequences?
  • Where are the benefits worth the risks and where are they not?
  • Could an ethical risk be turned into an opportunity? For instance, has it provided an insight that could help shape an innovation?

Consequence scanning is a very practical tool. You can do it in any time frame. For instance, spend 15 minutes assessing a low-risk situation. Work as a team over a longer period to address high-risk ethical challenges. Consequence scanning has the most impact when you include the community you're aiming to help and support in your process.

Whoever you want to help, there’s power in including a diversity of perspectives. People who don’t reflect your personality or cultural background will provide alternative points of view. This gives you a better chance of unlocking new opportunities.

More information on consequence scanning

Learn how agencies that use consequence scanning all the time do this. These articles are written for people who don’t mind dealing with some technical language.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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