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Ethics at work

The author, Daniel Hartley
Daniel Hartley
Reading time: 2 minutes

Considering the consequence of my actions, and changing my behaviour accordingly, did not require a grand plan or overhaul of working practices.

The workplace is an appropriate environment for applied ethics. We frequently consider risk, undesirable consequences, and competing outcomes. Processes exist to communicate, share information, save time, and measure progress.

Pledge Works adapts these processes in return for outcomes that improve upon business as usual defaults.

The idea is simple; we write pledges that frame or guide our work in a given context. The context is everything related to the work needed doing, including the people responsible, the time and budget available, and the scope. Pledges need to have enough character to be meaningful without being dogmatic.

Pledge Works formula: values + context = pledges. Values are drawn as a blue circle, context as a black square, and they combine into a purple square within a circle to illustrate the Pledge Works approach.
The Pledge Works Formula: values + context = Pledge Works

Getting started

To begin, it's enough to write pledges with a product or use case in mind. When I was considering which analytics service to use for this website, I read up on user rights and developer responsibilities.

I drew on two W3C principles: Security and privacy are essential and The web must enhance individuals' control and power to write two pledges of my own:

  • I pledge not to sell, exchange or exploit user data.
  • I pledge to balance privacy, security, and usability.

Pledge Works uses a decision matrix to compare different solutions to a problem. I thought this would be helpful, so I created an Analytics decision matrix to compare providers. I decided to go with Cabin.

This exercise threw up a lot of legal, technical, and social issues which are relevant in other scenarios. I created a pledge checklist that I can reuse and edit later.

The ethical ratchet

Once I'd written a few pledges, I saw they formed a cascade, from high-level principles or pledges appropriate for a responsible project, to detailed pledges relevant to specific tasks. I found it straightforward to convert concrete pledges into requirements that lead to unambiguous actions.

In general terms

  • Personal principles.
    1. Project pledges.
      1. Verifiable actions.
The cascade of pledges: increasingly concrete.

In specific terms

  • Security and privacy are essential.
    1. I pledge not to sell, exchange or exploit user data.
      1. No cross-site or cross-device tracking.
The cascade of pledges: how to choose a website analytics provider.

Pledges perform the role of ethical teeth preventing me from backsliding. I first commit to pledges that are relevant to the scope or complexity of a problem or domain, and as I learn more, I add detail, in search of a still better outcome.

Case study: Pledge Works.

Appendix: Pledge Works Tools & Assets

Pledge Works is a ResponsibleTech.Work collaboration.

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