Ethical Innovation in Emergency Response

Opportunities for innovation in IT supported emergency response include better utilisation of a wide range of data sources, modes of data analysis and visualization and modes of participation for enhanced situation awareness and capacity to respond. Risks and challenges arise from transformations of privacy, profiling and social sorting, creeping securitization, and proactive law-making, as well as from automating parts of social practices of sense-making, collaboration and improvisation.

Specifically, ethical opportunities, risks and challenges arise in relation to:

  1. The substantive innovation undertaken as part of the SecInCoRe project. That is, new IT supported practices of responding to crises can raise new ethical dilemmas (such as function creep, where data collected and processed for one reason is later used for other purposes, or a soft erosion of civil liberties through increasing surveillance) as well as new ethical possibilities (such as more resilient societies through engaging the public more closely in understanding and responding to crises).
  2. The research process. To explore opportunities, risks and challenges adequately, the SecInCoRe project engages closely with professionals and members of the public. These participants will be asked to participate in collective experimentation with socio-technical innovations and will, in the process, be exposed to ethical opportunities, risks and challenges, for example by having some personal data collected, processed and shared as part of the experimental implementation of SecInCoRe prototypes.

The substantive innovation and the research process are intimately connected and there are parallels with other highly contentious areas of science in society, for example, nuclear energy, genetic engineering, nano-technology or synthetic biology, health informatics, smart city and ambient intelligence. All these advances promise great benefits, but also pose grave risks, and challenge societies with unpredictable transformations and uncertainties. Beresford and Stajano (2003) and de Montjoye et al. (2013), for example, show how even anonymized location data can yield the identity of users when combined with profile information. Such unintended consequences are often only found out through trial and in implementation, confirming the dictum that nowadays “society [and the larger environment] is the laboratory”’ (Wynne 2007: 52), where the effects of science and innovation are inherently unpredictable.

Researchers across diverse fields recognise a need for more informed public debate and engagement. This is not easy. Members of ‘the public’ have often been portrayed as disinterested or as suffering from “scientific illiteracy”. This makes engagement mainly a matter of education through experts. However, more recent debates show that genuinely informed democratic decision-making requires practical as well as communicative engagement. This is difficult, but different groups have developed methodologies that enable public involvement in science and socio-technical innovation, placing control over science more firmly within society (Wynne et al., 2007, Pauwels, 2011). Such methods include the use of ethnographic studies to understand existing and emergent future everyday practices, hopes and concerns, interdisciplinary co-realization of new socio-technical futures where diverse ‘located accountabilities’ can be defined and negotiated (Suchman, 2002), participatory design (Greenbaum and Kyng, 1992, Shapiro, 2005), community sensing and citizen science (Hemment et al., 2010), iterative collective experimentation (Wynne and Felt, 2007), for example in living laboratories. The ‘living laboratory’ approach (Hemment, 2006, Büscher et al., 2008, Schumacher and Niitamo, 2008) builds on participatory ‘provotyping’ approaches (Mogensen, 1991), enabling experimental appropriation or ‘colonisation’ and shaping of prototype socio-technical systems.

Bringing together experience from collaborative IT design (Greenbaum and Kyng, 1992), the engaged programme in science and technology studies (Sismondo,2008), public sociology (Burawoy, 2004), design research (Baerenholdt et al., 2010) and design thinking (Cooper et al., 2009), the SecInCoRe project team employ and develop such methodologies. However, while this enables public participation, it also exposes stakeholders – professional and ‘ordinary’ members of the public or non-academic analysts and designers – to risks. On these pages we have explained key aspects of these risks and the measures we take to enable all participants to mitigate them.