Bendert Zevenbergen: Ethics Guidelines for Networked Systems (Research)

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17 May, 2016

The ‘Ethics in Networked Systems Research’ project at the Oxford Internet Institute launched a guideline document for engineers and gatekeepers of ethics standards (edited by me!). These guidelines aim to give technologists on the one side, and lawyers, philosophers, managers – to name a few – on the other side the tools to have a meaningful discussion and make a subsequent assessment of how the project should be designed. The document was created with academia in mind as the primary audience, but could certainly be more widely used in corporate or government settings.

Many great people from all sorts of disciplines attended workshop around the world to give input on the guidelines. For example, see an extended report of a workshop hosted in Oxford in 2015, as well as a cross-disciplinary case study. The guidelines are presented in a Wiki format, so that they can be updated to reflect developments and new insights.

The guidelines have been significantly influenced by previous work, such as the Association of Internet Researchers Ethics Guidelines, the Menlo Report, general emerging technology ethics methodology, Constructive Technology Assessment, Value-Sensitive Design (pdf), and Ethical IT Innovation. At the heart of this work is the iterative reflexivity methodology that guides stakeholders to identify and minimize risks and other burdens. These must be mitigated to the largest extent possible by adjusting the design of the project before data collection takes place.

These guidelines will be useful for gatekeepers of ethics standards at institutions, academic journals, conferences, and funding agencies. For example, a conference could ask researchers to show that they have assessed their project with these guidelines before they submit a proposal for a research. Beyond academia the guidelines are already used by some companies and could be used by government or civil society information systems.

We would be very interested to hear if the readers of the Considerati newsletter have comments, or even tried to apply these guidelines to their current project and product designs. The strength of these guidelines is the possibility to update the text to reflect the current state of technology and user’s expectations, so all criticism (constructive or less so) is welcome!

For more information on these guidelines, comments you might have or questions on how to use them, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Bendert Zevenbergen

Academic Liaison at Princeton University

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