Leverage the ‘frozen middle:’ Growing Digital Ethics in Practice
On this episode, we’re joined by Anne Currie. Anne recently designed an ethics module for the Computer Science department at the University of Hertfordshire. Anne is also the Tech Ethicist for Container Solutions, and author of the four-book Panopticon series, a near-future science fiction exploration of issues we’re currently facing like climate change, AI, surveillance, and the individual vs the state.
Anne Currie says the key action for companies to take who want to move forward from ethical intentions to ethical action is to leverage middle management. She points out that in the wake of the 2008/09 financial crisis, the financial services industry underwent a sea change in terms of its ethical governance processes. Of all the strategies tried, it was found that neither top-down nor bottom-up approaches work terribly well: top-down approaches are greeted with scepticism unless it’s been the consistent policy of an organization all along. Bottom-up approaches usually fail due to the individuals’ lack of organizational capital: they simply don’t have enough power to enact true change. But middle managers are the heart of the organization: they can influence above and below.
What kind of incentives can un-freeze the middle? Anne says one of the most effective is really facing an existential threat: if the business itself is at risk, or your job is on the line, you’re much more likely to sit up and take notice. Anne’s writing as a speculative fiction author helps her to imagine some of these potential existential threats and work through how different groups might approach them—something she finds very helpful in her day job as a technical ethicist and strategist for Container Solutions.
Read more about Anne’s work, including her Panopticon book series, at https://www.annecurrie.com/.