Agile and Lean

Consequence Scanning – an agile event for responsible teams

This post is about something important, which is why it’s taken some time to put together.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to work with Doteveryone. We created a new agile event that frames team conversation about the potential wider consequences of what they are building.

Doteveryone describes themselves as a responsible technology think tank. Their research and projects highlight some of today’s moral and ethical challenges for the industry and work to address them.

Earlier in the year, they published their research People, Power and Technology. It uncovered the attitudes of the people who design and build digital technologies in the UK. The conclusion is that people in tech don’t want to just deliver quickly without thinking, they care about the impact of what they are doing.

For an organisation, not addressing this can lead to losing people. The report quotes 18% of people quitting a job because they felt decisions about technology would have a negative impact. This figure is 27% for Artificial Intelligence roles.

For society, it means a lot more, which is reflected in the media. It is a hot topic right now, it’s important, ethics comes up at pretty much every conference that I have been to. People are aware of it and talking about it, but what are they doing about it?

Off the back of the report, Doteveryone wanted to create an agile event that could fit into a teams existing cadence. Which is where I came in, working with Sam Brown, the programme manager for Tech Transformed

What I love about the thinking that Doteveryone has done is how it opens the team to think outside of themselves and their immediate user’s needs. It helps us to think in different contexts including: security and privacy; wellbeing and relationships; communities, and professional life.

For example, how does addictive apps and screentime affect people’s relationships? location-aware dating apps show you people nearby, but what if you are at work? And then there is the whole huge area including elections, personalised marketing, environment and self-driving cars.

This was all great content that we could build on top of.

What we created was Consequence Scanning. Much like any agile event or habit is it lightweight, easy to understand and difficult to master.

The event itself uses three questions alongside the different contexts and some unintended consequence prompts to get people thinking.

The three questions are

  1. What are the intended and unintended consequences of this product or feature?
  2. What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?
  3. What are the consequences we want to mitigate?

It doesn’t need special tools, and there is a toolkit to help.

It should happen regularly and output to a consequence log, which holds your assumptions about consequences. Having the log means that teams can keep checking in with those assumptions. Consequences may change over time, as the systems of society change and what may have been great at one point can turn.

It is most effective if it is baked into a product from the very beginning, but you can start doing it at any time.

Tools like this have the power to make what we do better, for us, our teams, our users and society. I hope to see more teams using Consequence Scanning to help them make more informed decisions. You can read more and download the toolkit here and let me know if you have tried it out in the comments below.

Header image by Doteveryone

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