Digital Impact 4Q4 Podcast: Samantha Brown on Consequence Scanning
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00:00 CHRIS DELATORRE: Welcome to Digital Impact 4Q4, I’m Chris Delatorre. Today’s four questions are for Samantha Brown, program lead at Doteveryone, an independent think tank based in the United Kingdom. This year, the organization introduced Consequence Scanning, a new way for tech teams to consider the potential consequences of their products or services on people and society.
Samantha, thanks for joining us. Doteveryone introduced a new kind of agile event that provides an opportunity to mitigate or address potential harms or disasters before they happen. For our listeners: what exactly is consequence scanning and how do you see it transforming data practice in the social sector?
00:48 SAMANTHA BROWN: So, as an organization, we’ve been looking to change the process of how technology is developed in order to have it be more responsible towards people and society. And in doing so we did a lot of research in talking to practitioners and technologists around what the processes they used today were and where challenges and barriers to being responsible came in.
What we continuously heard was that people had a fairly good idea of what the types of consequences the products that they were making could have but there was simply nowhere within the development process to be able to raise those questions and to have those conversations and to purposely seek out new perspectives and to ask for people with new eyes and probably better understanding of users what that could mean as you went. And so we sought to take that insight and create that process for people to be able to do. And so we looked at agile methodologies that existed today. And what some of the key attributes they had that made them useful and successful in a business context and we designed a process very similar to that. And so it’s light-weight. It’s meant to be time-boxed so it shouldn’t take more than an hour to do.
We’ve created a specific structure around it that’s in two phases, and we’ve dedicated it to answering those three core questions, which is, what are the intended and unintended consequences? What are the positive consequences that you might want to focus more on? And what are the consequences you want to mitigate? And simply asking those questions early and often is an extremely powerful tool for change.
02:46 CHRIS DELATORRE: Louise Marston, managing director at Doteveryone, says responsible technology is simple to understand but difficult to master. But here’s the thing. Why would the software industry respond to a civil society “solution” to a “problem” that not all of them agree is a problem?
03:05 SAMANTHA BROWN: I think the core thing with consequence scanning is that it’s a genuinely useful business process that is aimed at creating the best possible product. And that is something that any organization, any type of product team is going to be interested in. It is the ultimate aim of what you’re creating.
You’re looking to create the best possible thing, the best possible solution for the people who are going to be using it. And this product, this process delivers on that question. It gives you the opportunity to collaborate and to innovate in a way that you wouldn’t do otherwise. It uses existing business practices, so it slots very easily into the way that you work. And it allows you to look at a gap that currently exists in most development processes in terms of constantly questioning, what is the intention of what we are doing? And staying close to that and ensuring that what you created delivers on its original strategy and purpose. And it allows you to look forward in terms of, how is this going to play out in the real world with real people who interact with my product, and what is it going to mean? How do I control for that and how do I make that a better all around better experience for everyone.
04:29 CHRIS DELATORRE: What would you say to practitioners who are trepidatious about relying on decision-making by committee? Would you say that’s a big part of the process?
04:37 SAMANTHA BROWN: Not necessarily. So, we’ve actually developed this process to take two phases. The first phase is around ideation, which is certainly around pulling in as many different perspectives and different experience and expertise as possible in order to ask yourself, what are the consequences of this product or feature? But in terms of actual decision making, the next part of this process is focused on action. What are the things that you can do with the people in the room, what’s in your direct control to take away and solve? What are the things that you can influence the outcome of? Whether that be escalating it to a senior stakeholder, taking it to a different team or a different department, or approaching your suppliers or your stakeholders or your funders, etc. And what are the things that are just completely out of your control?
That decision making process and that prioritization process can take place just with the product owner or just with the product sponsor or by the team. And so, whether or not it’s made by committee is actually up to the organization and the way that it functions. It’s specifically designed to be adaptable based on the needs of the organization and the way that your team functions.
06:07 CHRIS DELATORRE: In closing, Samantha, what’s your message for listeners who are ready for consequence scanning but not sure where or how to start?
06:16 SAMANTHA BROWN: This is the place to start, actually. We have a manual available that lays out everything to know about how you can take this forward into your business and how you would do it. That’s available on doteveryone.org.uk. And you can follow us on Twitter. We’re constantly sharing other people’s experiences of doing this process and telling you more about where we’re going to be and any new materials that we have coming out. So you can follow us on Twitter @doteveryone.
06:52 CHRIS DELATORRE: Samantha Brown, Program Lead at Doteveryone, thank you.
Digital Impact is a program of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Follow this and other episodes at digitalimpact.io and on Twitter @dgtlimpact with #4Q4Data.