Complex socio-technical systems that combine human and computational elements have important impacts on society in areas ranging from online commerce to algorithmically supported decision-making to cyber-physical systems such as smart grids and self-driving cars. As these systems grow in prevalence, complexity, and scale, ethical considerations correspondingly grow around how they are designed and deployed. Practitioners in a range of disciplines and roles, including user experience (UX) designers, data scientists, software developers, product managers, and others, are on the front lines of how these systems are designed and built and play a key role in determining how much and how well these systems address those ethical considerations. This research will investigate practitioners’ experiences and attitudes around ethics, using those insights to develop methods to increase practitioners’ everyday ethical awareness and action, and developing educational materials and experiences to train future designers and technologists to be better “everyday ethicists.” 

To address these goals, this project will include efforts to characterize ethical concerns that impact socio-technical design practice, leading to the creation of methods that increase practitioners’ ethical awareness and action. The first two sets of studies will seek to identify and describe ethical considerations designers face, modeling identity, disciplinary, ecological, and societal factors that shape, constrain, or enable ethical design from the practitioner perspective. This will be accomplished through a series of interviews, focus groups, surveys, and analysis of online interactions among practitioners that relate to ethics and values. Building upon these findings, a third set of studies will use an iterative participatory approach to create, evaluate, refine, and disseminate methods that increase the ethical capacity of socio-technical practitioners through a series of workshops and deployments. These studies should lead to an ecological model of ethical awareness and action with the potential to guide future ethics education and practitioner-led research on social and design responsibility. The outcomes of this research have the potential to increase sensitivity towards inclusivity and user agency in a variety of practice contexts, leading to more equitable and responsible socio-technical systems.