The digital revolution is firmly established and continues to grow.

One of the most exciting aspects of the changes we are seeing is the opportunity to bring about significant benefits to society – including the increasing application of technology by government organisations. 

However, the true value of this opportunity will only be realised if citizens completely trust the use of technology. 

There are many important factors that contribute towards the ethical creation, maintenance and building of that trust. 

Government organisations need to be acutely aware of the impact of digital ethics if they are to be fully trusted in their use of technology. 

There are examples that, without a foundation of ethics, the use of data can perpetuate discrimination in society. Just look at an artificial intelligence (AI) recruiting tool that showed bias against women. 

What about the use of algorithms widely used in US hospitals to allocate health care to patients that was found to be systematically discriminating against black people? 

These examples significantly impact the level of trust among citizens, especially when data is being used to provide fundamental services.

Weaving ethics throughout service design, right from the very beginning, gives those organisations a clear head start in delivering trust.

Recent research commissioned by Sopra Steria discovered that there is some concern among Scottish citizens on the capturing and use of data. 

In the report, due to be published this autumn, Scotland is shown to be the region least trusting of technology across the UK – although Scots are the most trusting of each other. 

The research also showed that over half of Scottish citizens do not know what personal data government organisations collect about them, suggesting a significant opportunity for improved transparency in the implementation of new technology.

By creating transparent and open digital services, backed up by clear and robust communications, the barriers to trust will be lessened. 

Without trust in services, there will likely be a negative impact on engagement. Such an impact will inhibit the realisation of the true value of that technology, preventing a true return on investment. 

Sopra Steria’s research showed that this may already be the case, given that only 28 per cent of Scottish respondents believe that government organisations should be able to access people’s personal data to run the country effectively. 

This reluctance will be likely to curb the adoption of digitalised services in both the short and long term.

To counter such reluctance, government bodies should continue to integrate and incorporate ethical design principles throughout digital service design. 

The route to inclusivity and abundant mass adoption of new technology, is to take an “ethics by design” approach. 

Recent successful examples include the NHS England trialling algorithmic impact assessments, as well as Police Scotland’s Data Ethics Strategy that was developed in conjunction with the Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation.

Ultimately, if citizens don’t trust digital services from government, they will be hesitant about sharing their data – something which is core to the efficacy of those services. 

Without the data, organisations will be limited in the services they can provide, and limited in the insights gleaned from those services. 

Gaining and keeping trust requires adherence to key digital ethical principles such as privacy, fairness and equality. 

The cycle of adoption, data capture, engagement, insights and continuous improvement needs to run hand in hand with digital ethics throughout to ensure inclusivity and trust among citizens, now and into the future. 

Partner Content in association with Sopra Steria 

Richard Thompson of Sopra Steria will be speaking at #DigitalScotland2022