Mobilising Data: isITethical? at PSCE 2017


Published by Harriet Phipps

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Cemore’s Monika Büscher and Malé Luján Escalante will take the game isITethical to the Public Safety Communications Europe Conference in Munich, 3-5 May 2017.


IsITethical? The Board Game: experimenting with ethical impact assessment as creative collaborative process.

This is design-led collaborative research (Frayling 1993, Büscher et al 2011) that proposes ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) as on-going sets of creative practices rather than a policing document outside of the design or uses of technology innovation (Balmer et al 2016; Viseu 2015). Many different codes of ethics exist, most treat ELSI abstractly or are only relevant to individual organisations. However, what ELSI mean and how they create challenges or opportunities changes depending on the actors, technologies, goals and contexts for interactions.

We have developed an IsITehthical board game as a tool and as process to collaboratively build worlds in which ELSI can be discussed, applied and developed further. The research draws on future orientated design approaches (Dunne 2008, Coulton et al 2016) and Critical Play (Flanagan 2009), Persuasive Games and Procedural Rhetoric (Bogost 2007). From the premise that past and present are individually constructed to create particular realities (Law and Urry 2004) or rhetoric about reality, and that design can be considered “as rhetoric” (Buchanan 1985), we designed a game with the premise that each time it is played, worlds are built, and in these worlds players can experience ELSI key terms and guidance ‘live’.

Speculative playing worlds may result in artefacts that can appear subversive and irreverent in nature (Coulton et all. 2016), however they can also be effective tools to instigate conversations and creative thinking on complex issues otherwise too difficult to approach, especially in a context of conflicting perspectives.

This research is part of a large scale European Union funded (2014-17) research project SecInCore (, concerned with the collaborative design of technology to enable inter-organisational information sharing for disaster management from a Pan-European past disaster inventory. The game puts SecInCore research examples in motion to create situations in which ELSI guidance gets debated, used, evaluated to apply in preferable futures. In this sense, the game is also a way to catalyse community building and tangible ways to support engagement with the online IsITethical resource. The board game ultimately makes SecInCore findings engage-able and appealing to wider audiences including other practitioners that are considering in ELSI in other contexts. We explore the role of the designer into creating tools to facilitate engagements with ethics, or doing ethics through design.


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