Q: How does ethics ‘work’?

A: There are many ways to ‘do ethics’. I approach ethics in a pragmatist manner; I use ethics as a toolbox, a toolbox to ask questions and to develop answers.


Let me give an example of how ethics can ‘work’ in your research or innovation project.

I would ask questions about the project’s overall goals, e.g.: What is the impact that you wish to make in the world?

Such a question is meant to counter the tendency to focus on technology. Yes, the development of technology is often a key part in a project. But the project’s overall goal is not to develop technology. The project’s overall goal is to have an impact in the world, e.g., to give people tools which they can use to develop more healthy habits, to empower people so they can co-create and experience safety in their daily lives—or, put in general terms: to enable people to flourish; to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. Technology is a means—not an end in itself.

Such a question will often trigger an interesting discussion about the role of technology in society and about social responsibility—of your organization and of your own role in the project. Moreover, it will often trigger a very useful discussion about partners that would be needed, if we want to create this or that impact in society, the creation of an innovation, eco-system, and about the type of output that the project will need to deliver so that these partners can indeed use this output in their processes and create positive impact in the world.

I make ethics ‘work’ by facilitating a discussion on the impact a project is trying to make in society. For me, ‘ethical issues’ and ‘societal issues’ are often the same.

Please note that, in these discussion, I will not express any value judgements. I’m not your judge. It is your project. I can only try to serve you in your cultivation of your moral sensitivity and capabilities.

Next time, I will present the ‘Societal and Ethical Impact Canvas’, which we are currently developing in the JERRI project.


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