The Digital Ethics Compass:
Helping Companies Navigate the Ethics Jungle
After just one year of existence, our toolkit, the Digital Ethics Compass, has empowered and guided numerous companies to use ethics as a competitive edge and a guide to a more prosperous digital future. Ultimately, this means less inequality, less manipulation, less misinformation, and more trust in society by placing humans at the center
About the Digital Ethics Compass
The Digital Ethics Compass is a toolkit that helps companies make the right decisions from a design ethical standpoint. It’s a simple and practical tool and learning program (a series of workshops) that enables companies to build an ethical foundation for their future financial growth. The Compass is developed with various Danish companies within Fin-, Health- and Mobility-tech, and digital design.
This December, we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Digital Ethics Compass. Since its launch in 2021, the compass and the complementary learning program have been picked up in Denmark and beyond – by businesses, organizations, educational institutions, and other government entities.
The Results: It’s all about ethics
The Digital Ethics Compass allows companies to use it directly in development and change processes. Companies that have embraced the compass have developed a common language for discussing ethics in the field of digital – something they struggled with in the past.
Some other results we see:
- The compass has empowered numerous businesses within fin- and health tech to develop ethical solutions that put the human before the technology. Businesses that (among many) counts Danske Bank, Konfront, Howdy, Mindcap, Teknologiens Mediehus, and Vejle municipality. Additionally, the toolkit has helped companies qualify for the D-seal, Denmark’s labeling program for IT security and responsible data handling
- Several educational institutions have introduced the Digital Ethics Compass to their students, including The IT University of Copenhagen, KEA, DMJX, CPH Business, and Business Academy Aarhus
- The compass has become an integral part of the Innofounder startup program, providing ethical guidance to startups using digital solutions as their business model
- It has ensured a greater focus on digital ethics within the service design field: The Digital Ethics Compass was introduced (both in 2021 and 2022) at several major conferences, including Service Design Global Conference, ISPIM, and Design Matters.
"The Digital Ethics Compass is an action-oriented and helpful tool. It has become a frame of reference that has given us a common language and some common models for incorporating ethics into the design of Howdy products. For us, continuing to use this tool makes sense."
Participants in the Digital Ethical Compass learning program gained the following essential insights that will be useful for their future business development:
- Digital ethics is a fundamental competitive parameter
- Creating a common language about ethics is crucial
- The importance of building a space for complex decision-making
- Identifying ethical dilemmas leads to immediate improvements in digital services and products
These insights will guide our ongoing work at DDC and help other companies begin or continue their commitment to digital ethics. The more companies engage in this area, the more we encourage the development of digital ethical solutions that empower people, not control them.
The Digital Ethics Compass: Two in one
The compass has two main functions: The heuristic function serves as a practical tool (like an ethical checklist) that helps companies ask the right ethical questions to avoid the most common mistakes when designing a new digital product or service. The toolkit is free, and you can download it right here.
The other part is the ethics workshops, where participants are guided to develop more ethical and responsible products. You can find a course description at the end of the article.
The Challenge: Eliminating the harmful effects of digital technology
Our digital mission at DDC is to support businesses integrating ethics into the design process of digital solutions. Ultimately, to contribute to a world where digital technologies are emancipatory for people.
We’re often confronted with stories or analyzes that point to digital downsides – bias, inequality, manipulation, and polarization. Many of us remember the infamous digital scandal of 2018 when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had tapped the data of millions of Facebook users. It was (and still is) an example showing digital technology’s dark side. There are plenty of similar examples that call for action.
It’s our responsibility as a society and as companies to ensure that we control technology and not the other way around. And the good news is that it only takes people to bring about change. Because, in the end, every algorithm, automation, and data management process that impacts the outcomes of our engagement with digital products ultimately relies on human labor.
Ethics is about doing the right thing even if nobody is looking. Ethics is about asking ourselves: just because we can, should we? And for this very reason, ethics is a competitive parameter. This is an area where both public and private companies can differentiate themselves – and do so in a way that benefits both people and society.
"Imagine a future where digital technologies are the force to set us free as humans. A future where digital technologies truly help us, empower us, help us thrive, support us in being healthy and safe, and give us a sense of belonging – to ourselves, to others, to nature, and the planet."
Director of Digital Transition, DDC
The Approach: Let the compass guide you
We believe that how we co-created the toolkit is part of its success. By including three design agencies, an advisory board of digital experts, and three frontrunner companies from the start, we ensured that the companies could use the toolkit independently and were at the center of the development. Still, just as importantly, by including the design agencies, we built capacity and enabled them to continue facilitating and working with the toolkit.
The Digital Ethics Compass has enabled companies to build an ethical foundation for future financial growth. It has navigated them in the right direction and ultimately helped them ask the most important questions when designing and developing digital solutions and products.
The learning program has enabled participating companies to walk the talk by working and developing ethical products and services. It has allowed them to work on practical issues, exercises, and challenges and to learn how to deal with the dilemmas of the digital world, such as data, algorithms, and nudging. This has positioned the companies to become frontrunners in digital solutions that put people first by prioritizing trust and safety. These are the companies poised to win in the long run.
"The Digital Ethics Compass provides a set of principles to guide us towards a digital, ethical, and responsible future."
Head of Culture and Health, Vejle Municipality
Work with the Compass
A 1-2 hour talk followed by a discussion on digital design ethics. The talk focuses on how to start designing responsible, ethical products in your company or organization.
1-2 day workshop
Your company or team develops the skills and language to discuss and resolve ethical dilemmas related to your digital solutions. The workshop and training are based on one or more of your digital products. During the workshop, you will develop solutions for better and more ethical digital products or services.
All companies have individual needs to strengthen their digital design ethics. Some may only need to change a few minor design details, while others may need to change their design and product development processes.
That’s why our digital ethics design partners are available for shorter or longer extended courses, where key insights from The Digital Ethics Compass are tailor-made for your specific company or organization.
Can’t get enough of design and innovation? We hear you. And we have you covered.
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