Responsible Tech Collective: Learnings and Possibilities
3 minute read
Since its inception 4 years ago, Nexer Digital has been a proud partner with the Responsible Tech Collective, working with other members to champion data, ethics, design ethics, diversity and inclusion and tackle digital exclusion. In this piece, Amy Czuba shares updates and impact from the Collective's retrospective, held last week.
Since the Responsible Tech Collective’s (RTC) inception 4 years ago, Nexer Digital have been a proud partner, working with other partners to champion the humanity of technology with a focus on data ethics, design ethics, diversity and inclusion and tackling digital exclusion.
Last week, the Collective met for a retrospective where we shared updates on impact projects such as the Citizen-Led Security Standards and the Community Research Network. We candidly shared both our successes and findings, emphasising the valuable lessons we have learned throughout.
We spoke and heard about the projects we have collaborated on, and the outcomes and next steps. I’m always amazed by Founder Lauren Coulman’s ability to create a safe space to share and be transparent, and unsurprisingly, she always brings such humanity to our sessions.
One of the overarching messages that I took away from the session is the affirmation that technology’s purpose must be to serve people, and we must keep people at the centre of everything we do. At Nexer Digital we also champion this ethos, and when things are fast-paced, we must prioritise responsible design, production, adoption and disposal. Individuals and communities must also play a role in defining what ‘good’ looks like, rather than be expected to just adopt and adapt.
Diversity and community engagement
In all our projects over the past four years, we have engaged with and mobilised many participants for collaboration. We have taken a co-creation and co-design approach to the projects, which Nexer has played a part in facilitating. Right from the start, the RTC have involved people within our projects, breaking barriers and paving the way for meaningful impact.
Our goal is to create technology that truly serves people and to achieve this, we must value and embrace the richness of diverse experiences. Every individual has unique needs and a distinct context in which technology plays a crucial role. This motivates us to actively engage with various communities, especially those farthest away from centres of influence, to understand their priorities and concerns.
Community Research Network
The purpose of the project is to enable cross-sector and in-community networks to bring home humanity to tech, through advancing, platforming and proliferating community engagement best-practice.
The key question at the heart of this discovery was: How might we raise awareness of responsible tech topics within communities? This was further digested down into 3 key lines of enquiry:
- Where is value exchanged or received by communities through the responsible use of technology?
- What are they key issues, challenges and opportunities when engaging communities about responsible technology?
- What are the enablers and barriers to raising awareness of responsible technology, and what might help us engage communities better around this topic?
The work involved workshops to help understand more about where value lies for local authorities and partners, as well as exploring any technical, cultural or organisational barriers to change. Interviews were conducted to get a clearer perspective on any barriers to communities understanding about the importance of data sharing and any barriers to engagement. Different ideas were prototyped to test different ways we can address the power imbalance between organisations and communities and explore new, better services that could be delivered.
Ethics, data, and AI
The Digital Economy Act 2017 provides a legal basis for personal data to be shared where there is “clear public benefit”. It begs the question ‘who determines what is to the public’s benefit?’ and ‘how comfortable are people with their data is being shared?’ Responsible tech means considering ethics upfront in every endeavour.
I enjoyed learning more about the Citizen Led security standards project from Stephen Girling. Advancements in AI bring with them a whole new set of needs around accountability, responsibility and trust. The project is focussing on upholding the highest security standards to build trust with users. Empowering individuals to take control of their data and privacy and giving users agency means that trust becomes a critical component in decision-making.
Another exciting project in the AI space is PEAs in Pods: Co-production of community based public engagement for data and AI research headed up by Keeley Crockett at MMU. The project has collaborated with universities to develop training programs that empower researchers with insight into power dynamics, lived experiences, and impact of technology. Institutional change has allowed us to embed community voices into projects and organisations, removing blockers and barriers along the way.
Achieving equality in tech
A lack of belonging, recognition, and reward among some groups have been endemic issues in the tech industry. The lack of diversity in tech is something that we're acutely aware of, and within our own team, we’ve been taking steps to reduce deficits in our recruitment process through our bootcamp partnership with Diverse and Equal.
D&E are also part of the RTC and have championed research projects into building equitable and inclusive environments which can be formed to create lasting change and opportunities for all, and we’re excited to see the application and adoption of the findings on a broader scale following additional funding.
Speculative Design in community research
RTC ran a pilot for shared learnings, a series of talks aiming to bring together the RTC members to share ideas, successes and challenges around the responsible tech theme. Nexer’s Danielle Stone offered to deliver the first one, sharing Nexer's use of Speculative Design methods to explore possible futures.
The RTC session gave us the opportunity to explore a speculative design process with people from outside our organisation and helped us to form and test a speculative design workshop. The session was well received, and Lauren and her team were inspired to use the methodology in some of their work in exploring more responsible tech futures in areas such as homelessness and civic rights.
Speculative design as an approach removes some of the constraints that often limit our thinking, and is a great way to bring everyone into the design process on an equal footing. It allows us to explore possible negative and positive consequences of the design decisions we make, and as such, it’s well suited to work which centres around ethics and building a more equitable future - a perfect fit for the RTC’s work.
In July, Lauren and Danielle jointly led a speculative design workshop at Camp Digital in Manchester attended by professionals from a variety of disciplines and organisations, which explored the possible future of citizen data ownership. Participants worked together to explore potential future scenarios and created speculative artefacts that helped communicate their ideas.
Meeting with the Responsible Tech Collective really reaffirmed the scale of the need for responsible, accessible and sustainable technology that serves, and is centred around, people. As an industry, we have to acknowledge the disparities faced by socially disadvantaged communities. Co-producing with those that are the furthest away from technology will allow us to produce more equitable products and services that consider diverse life contexts and empower people with technology, rather than technology being forced upon users and failing them.
The staggering £2 billion per month loss of the Purple Pound – the spending power of disabled households- further highlights the need for more inclusive and accessible technology. We can’t do this alone, and that is why as part of the RTC we strive to work together to address these challenges and bridge the digital divide, ensuring that everyone can benefit from technological advancements.
As we reflected on the past four years, we recognised that we have only scratched the surface of what technology can do to serve people and communities. There is much more work to be done, and we embrace the journey ahead with a focus on progress over perfection, courage, and accountability. By upholding responsible practices, we are committed to creating a future where technology is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable for all.
Nexer have been at the forefront of so much of the Responsible Tech Collective, taking to heart the need to shift policies, processes and practices to enable people to be centred, and investing in diversity within their own organisation through their partnership with Diverse&Equal. Not only have they committed to participating in the co-creation of the Responsible Tech Diagnostic Tool prototype and Community network which is still in discovery, but led on our pioneering responsible tech shared learning sessions, platforming their work on Speculative Design, and sharing best practice around centring communities and imagining new possibilities for society. This is just the beginning of our together journey in this work, and I’m so proud of the precedent Nexer is setting for others in the industry.