F*** Ethics

Tired of seeing negative media headlines about big techs? Discover F*** Ethics. A program for incubators to help tech start-ups consider and act upon the ethical implications of their digital products or services. Through a three-step journey, founders and their teams learn to future proof their digital solution from the get-go.

Celina Thomsen
Raphaëlle de Beaumont
Deepu James
Danish Design Centre
Making digital ethics practical for tech start-ups
What if ethical design became a common practice in the tech start-up community? What if Founders and Product Managers were able to spot potential ethical risks and opportunities linked to their digital product from the get-go? In this project, we took on the challenge to build fast and actionable practices for teams of tech start-ups to assess and act upon the ethical implications of their product. We worked in partnership with the Danish Design Centre, focusing on 3 areas being data, automation and behavioral design. Check out the below video to know more about the research!
The Service

F*** Ethics is a program within tech incubators where start-ups learn to consider and act upon the ethical implications of their digital products or services. Through an introduction to digital ethics, discussion prompts and a Digital Ethics Sprint, start-up teams are pushed to see the blindspots of their solution. They then create an action plan for a chosen ethical risk or dilemma. The program is run by us at the incubator’s space, with the help of affiliates from the Danish Design Centre.

Putting digital ethics in the face of start-ups

Start-ups’ attention can become scarce when it comes to focusing on digital ethics. We thus chose to deliver our solution through incubators instead of creating another online open source tool. We also prototyped provocative question prompts such as ‘Say Trump took control of your product, what would he try to do with it?’. We printed these on cards and beers and sent them to start-ups. It resulted in the creation of the Devil’s Advocate cards set, which is sold through the F*** Ethics truck that we drive to incubators’ HQ as an awareness touchpoint.

Making it practical

We created a one-hour workshop called Digital Ethics Sprint that has been tested among three start-ups. In the workshop, Founders and their Product Teams map out their direct and indirect stakeholders before being assigned to one of these groups. They then write a review of their digital product through the eyes of this stakeholder. Watch the below video of Mads, a graduate of the program, for an example. Lastly, start-ups map the dilemmas and risks they found and reflect on potential actions.The intention is then to create an action plan for a chosen risk and present it to the rest of the cohort.

Digital ethics as a business imperative

A crucial part of our project was to provide the right incentive for start-ups to practice digital ethics. Meaning not just highlighting the unfair consequences on humans but highlighting the impact on the business itself. And in fact, not ethically developing a product can end up being costly for start-ups, whether through GDPR or other regulatory fines, losing investors-, employees’- and customers’ trust, or even going out of market due to media backlash.

Bringing F*** Ethics to life

We will be piloting a compressed version of the program with Innofounder Graduate, an incubator based in Copenhagen. We will roll out further by leveraging resources from the Danish Design Centre and Innovation Fund Denmark. In the future we see F*** Ethics becoming an independent training company dedicated to tech start-ups, with interventions funded by incubators and accelerators.

special thanks

Embarking on such a big and cross functional topic was a very fulfilling experience. We would like to thank our tutor from RCA, Jane, the Digital Ethics Compass team at the Danish Design Centre, and Innofounder Graduate for supporting this project. And thank you to all the great start-ups who crash tested our ideas!

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