It’s a question we get asked a lot and a question we ask ourselves a lot, what is “tech for good?”
Of course things are rarely all “good” or all “bad”, so we’re in constant conversation about this. Here’s where we are at with our principles in determining what “tech for good” is.
At its heart, it’s all about people. People using the power of tech in myriad ways, both simple and extraordinary. This can be a combination of many things - to help redistribute power, give agency to people, help people make more informed decisions, create ways for people to connect, participate, address health or care needs and save energy. It can even make life-saving information and resources more discoverable.
1) Tech for who? Is it for the 99% and not just the 1%? Does it create wealth, agency and knowledge for everyone and not just the few? Is your tech accessible, affordable and useable by the many, or does it only really benefit an already privileged segment of society? Maybe the first segment you target are the people who can afford the tech and are easy to engage with - but are you explicit with the outside world that this is part of a strategy to develop it so that in the longterm it works for everyone?
2) Has it been designed to address an issue or need? Or maybe to instill a sense of wonder and awe? We don’t need more crap in this world, more stuff, more consumption so we are always keen to tell stories of technology that is being applied to a social problem or real human need. That being said, we also know joy, awe and wonder are all important so we don't only want to feature stories about “austerity” tech. We just really aren’t fans of technology that perpetuates the same consumerist behaviours as if the world around us can cope with that.
3) Has it been designed responsibly? As technology changes our society there are new concerns that people designing, making or commissioning technology need to have in mind. How is what you are making using people's personal data? Have you designed your work to respect the privacy and security of pepole's data? And have you given them the information they need to understand and make decisions about using it?
4) Does it give power and agency to people? In our experience, just because you are in a 'good' sector doing tech doesn't mean that you are making 'tech for good'. For example, a tech platform that makes it easier for charities to collect more money is not inherently tech for good, in certain scenarios it’s settling for an imbalance of power, not giving people what they need to help themselves. But what about technologies that mean the charity needs less money in the first place because the tech helps create solutions. We think that is totally tech for good: technology that ties in with social structures, or needs, to change the status quo. We believe in technology that transforms, not entrenches.
5) It doesn’t have to be about scale, but it does need to be bold. You might be being bold by keeping something small and simple or by deepening the work in one place rather than looking to spread it.
6) In the same way that it doesn’t need to be about scale, it also doesn’t have to be about the new”. Some of the best tech for good examples are existing tools and platforms just being used in new contexts or applied in new ways.
7) How is it made? What is the provenance of it? We don’t expect everyone to be where Fairphone are at, but we do like to feel that people are aware of the provenance of their products and are constantly working to improve things. We believe it is important to document and share how and where your work is being made and by whom.
8) Have you thought about assisted digital needs and access? Does your tech for good product/service work for people who have assisted digital needs? or do you have an assisted digital policy in place?
9) Do the founders and team add to the ‘good’? Are the ‘good’ principles reflected throughout the team behind the tech for good, including any investors? Are your activities and who funds you as transparent as possible?
10) Are the people who created it aware of any unintended consequences? Putting something new out into the world often has ripple effects and we love to see and hear about people's awareness of this. Do you communicate the assumptions you are making about the impact you want to have and do you share your awareness of the unintended consequences?
This list is still evolving - we’d love to hear from you about anything we’re missing or you don’t agree with.
Thank you to Indy Johar and the community in Hub Birmingham for suggesting some changes to this.