Beyond Principles: Do the work

by | Oct 4, 2019 | Development, ICT4D |

Principles are like our childhood dream of the partner we want to spend the rest of our life with. The list is long and wonderful, dreamy in fact. When we start dating, we often forget about the list for a while as we don’t want to be alone and quite frankly, we experiment. At one point, some of us decide to think long term and sometimes we remember the list. When we are with someone long term, we realise everyday is a choice, there are moments of wonderfulness and there are trade offs, and it looks different than we imagined.

There are hundreds principles out there regarding how to build technology for good, to do no harm, and so on. There are countless organisations who have signed up to these principles, who don’t adhere to them. And yet, I don’t hear of organisations being ‘kicked off’ the list.

Principles tend not to have ‘teeth’, but this doesn’t mean they are without value. They can help us aspire to a better way, giving us a direction to work towards. Sometimes principles give us building blocks on which to build today, other times we pull them apart and build something else.

However, at the moment, we don’t need more principles in AI or biometrics or identity or digital development, we have plenty. We need to move beyond signing up to them, we need to apply them.

The application is the hard part. It’s the work. It’s where we have to face up to organisational politics, where we have to make trade offs. Just like being in a long term relationship, applying principles takes effort, debates, disagreements. In the application of principles, there is a lot of ‘figuring it out as you go along’, this should be expected not a surprise.

And yes, applying principles will mean saying no to certain things, that’s part of the deal. Signing up to principles assumes integrity, applying the principles shows integrity exists and still matters.

Photo by Jennifer Burk


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