New Framework Builds Ethics Into Blockchain Design And Implementation
Beeck Center Offers Tool for Decision Makers Leveraging Blockchain for Social Impact
Press Release – Washington, DC – Recognizing the tremendous power that technology has to transform operations in the social sector and improve lives, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, today launched a new a tool to help decision makers build ethical considerations into their use of blockchain to scale social impact.
The Blockchain Ethical Design Framework, written by Dr. Cara LaPointe, Senior Fellow, and Lara Fishbane, Research Assistant, at the Beeck Center, is a practical framework for social impact leaders to approach the use of blockchain as it relates to social impact.
New technologies have the power to transform how we address social problems. However, it is critical to embed values into technology’s use. This framework allows decision makers to integrate values and ethics into the blockchain’s design and implementation process. To ensure that new technology solutions enable positive social impact without perpetuating bias or causing unintended harm, the Beeck Center’s framework helps decision makers design technology with intentionality, and identifies the key questions that decision makers should be asking to ensure the technology reflects ethical considerations from the beginning.
“Social impact organizations need to clearly identify the problems they want to address and the associated outcomes they want to achieve, establish the appropriate ethical approach and guiding values, and understand the available technology choices,” the Blockchain Ethical Design Framework reads. “This is particularly important in blockchain, in which the rules governing the human interactions with the technology are determined from the earliest stages of design and can be exceedingly difficult to change once the technology is implemented.”
The new framework builds on the Beeck Center’s portfolio of Data for Social Good work and outcomes-focused solutions, which highlight ways to leverage new technologies to scale social impact. While blockchain has the potential to help accelerate social impact, it requires testing, iterating and identifying the elements that need to be addressed to mitigate challenges in its application.
“Technology has incredible power to transform lives, but we have to understand that technology is not neutral. Values are embedded in the code,” said author of the framework, Cara LaPointe. “Ethics need to be built into the design process. Seemingly innocuous design choices can have resounding impacts on people’s lives. That is why we created a methodical way for decision makers to think about the ethical implications and impact of their work on people, from the very beginning of their process.”
Recognizing that blockchain’s unique combination of attributes – transparency, trust, and immutability of transactions – make the technology appealing for solving large-scale, intractable problems, the Beeck Center work highlights how the design and implementation can produce a wide range of consequences for people. For example, transparency of personally identifiable information could put people at risk of exploitation, while transparency of ethnic or religious background, sexual orientation, or other identifiers could put a person at risk for persecution.
“We are experiencing a transformational moment that is defining the impact that new technologies, like blockchain, have on people,” said Sonal Shah, Executive Director of the Beeck Center. “The way we have historically responded to technology as it relates to impact is backward – we apply a technology and back in our values, hoping to mitigate negative impacts after the fact. We have an opportunity with blockchain to rewrite the rules, to make a commitment to do no harm up front. That is why we created our Ethical Framework for Blockchain, which is a tool for anyone who wants to both harness the power of the technology and ensure people are protected from harmful impacts.”
The framework was developed with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The Beeck Center worked with a unique collection of stakeholders across industries to design the framework. More than 100 experts with backgrounds in technology, private industry, government, philanthropy, nonprofits, and academia made contributions that informed the framework.
The Beeck Center for Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University mobilizes talent to drive social impact at scale. We take a systematic approach to delivering exponential outcomes that leverages the tools of data, technology, policy, and finance to improve people’s lives. The Beeck Center incubates and spreads cutting edge ideas; creates unique and unconventional networks of government, private, and social sector leaders who come together to solve complex problems; and equips and trains students, practitioners, and executives with the mindset and tools necessary to take action.
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