We explore the downsides of great tech and how we can mitigate the risks they pose
As we dare to think about a world post-pandemic, it is easy to ask ourselves where we would have been without the help of technology – without the ability to work remotely, to connect with our friends and colleagues on Zoom, to socialise in a world where meeting in person was suddenly rendered impossible.
COVID-19 brought the ways we use technology to the forefront of our minds, particularly in the charity sector. How do we fundraise online? How do we engage with our supporters virtually? Technology became central to how we operate, and it is very easy to see the benefits it delivered over the course of the last 18 months.
But with great technology comes great responsibility. As with anything, there are downsides. Technology used to connect people can also be used by less well-meaning parties for things like surveillance or fraud. The rise of automation likewise poses a risk, despite its many advantages, with reduced human intervention having the potential to lead to greater unpredictability, as well as greater impact if it goes wrong.
Even with human intervention, there is uncertainty – perhaps yet more so. More than a quarter of tech professionals say they have experienced decisions that could lead to negative consequences for people and society, according to technology consultancy Thoughtworks.
The way we use tech, therefore, poses a significant reputational risk for charities. Organisations need to ensure they approach technology ethically, or risk losing the trust of their donors and beneficiaries alike.
The charity sector overall has a responsibility to ensure it sets an ethical example for other organisations. Not only are charities often held to a higher standard than most corporations when it comes to ethical behaviour, building trust with supporters relies on organisations acting with integrity in order to achieve their purpose.
Indeed, reputational risk is just one of many reasons the charity sector should pay attention to the Responsible Tech movement. The consequences of not doing so can affect every area of an organisation’s operations, including fundraising.
Being able to demonstrate ethical practices can go a long way to building a loyal and engaged donor base. More than two thirds of global consumers say they would remain loyal to a brand if the organisation practiced social responsibility.
From a recruitment perspective, more than half of millennials said they would not work for an organisation that did not align with their values – and committing to the ethical use of technology is an excellent way to demonstrate yours.
Identifying risks when it comes to the technology we use is complex – or at least, feels like it is at the outset. There are processes that can be formalised to make it easier.
In fact, this is one of the steps recommended in The Responsible Tech Playbook, produced by Thoughtworks. The playbook offers a framework for organisations to think about what technology they use and how they continue to innovate, trusting that they are acting responsibly for their stakeholders.
It emphasises the importance of considering multiple viewpoints, thinking about how technology will affect different parties both internally and externally, and implementing a process of inquiry, whereby tough questions can be asked of your tech in order to map out potential risks.
The playbook will also be featured in Thoughtworks’ upcoming webinar on 31 August, ’Responsible Tech: From purpose to practice’. You’ll hear about the tools organisations need to consider the ethical implications of the tech they choose to use, and how we can anticipate the risks they may pose to both stakeholders and wider society.
The charity sector has spent so long just trying to keep its head above water in the midst of COVID-19, that thinking long-term has been difficult. But thinking about the ethical implications of the technology we use is vitally important, perhaps even more so as the world reassesses itself in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
Charities, like any business or organisation, must reckon with the risks and learn to mitigate them to move forward responsibly.
Click above to find out more about responsible technology and attend Thoughtworks’ webinar, Responsible Tech: From Purpose to Practice, on 31 August 2021