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Just wondering if there are any examples of processes or standards in place within companies to raise ethical concerns related to UX design practices that anyone is aware of. I don't think there has been enough discussion around the topic, given the emphasis that has been placed on (and attention given to) social and corporate responsibility and social enterprises.

I would like to know which department and what positions are usually assigned this responsibility within a typical organisation.

The reason I have asked this question is because I don't think the HR or legal department of an organisation has enough knowledge to be able to help define the standards or best practises for the company, and that their view is going to be biased or aligned with business needs and requirements, which can be in conflict with the users' best interests. The other reason is that product owners and managers or people that the UX designers normally report to also don't have enough visibility to the design process and outcomes to understand the issues at stake.

I liked this quote from Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), which summarizes my view of how we should be able to deal with ethical issues within the workplace:

If a superior give any order to one who is under him which is against that man's conscience, although he do not obey it yet he shall not be dismissed.

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  • I'd argue the purpose of UX in general is to be ethical in the sense that we're here to advocate for the customer. – DA01 May 28 '15 at 20:06
  • Which makes it interesting that I never hear the topic raised because there appears to be no (effective) channel to communicate these types of concerns in most organisations that I have worked at. – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 21:11
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    Well, I'm not sure there's always a channel that cares. Most of the organization is in the business of making money. We are too, but we tend to be the ones (perhaps along with customer service) that are trying to argue from the customers POV. – DA01 May 28 '15 at 22:19
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I don't think this is specific to UX

Ethics violations, reporting and whistleblowing are no different for UX than they are for any other part of a business.

The best practices for organizing risk management nowadays (post global financial crisis) include:

  • Forming a Risk Management committee on the Board of Directors (this is often merged with the Audit Committee function)
  • Providing an Enterprise Risk Management or ERM framework for the business that is overseen by top management and ultimatly by the board.
  • Creating an internal audit function that reports to the CFO and also directly to the board. Internal audit covers not only financial malpractice but also ethics and business policy violations.

How does this relate to ethics reporting?

If these best practices are followed:

  • The Enterprise Risk Management framework should provide for multiple layers of ethics reporting from line employees all the way up to the board:

    enter image description here

  • Typically, employees are encouraged to report ethics violations upwards in the line of business (manager, then director, etc). Failing a satisfactory response, employees have access to whistleblower hotlines (where they are guaranteed protection) and ultimately directly to the audit committee of the board and the board itself.

    • If employees are concerned about retaliation, there are external government and NGO organizations set up to handle corporate ethics whistleblowing. If you're interested I can cite a few.
  • The internal audit function should provide downward monitoring of ethics issues by issuing standards, conducting periodic audits, and (in larger companies) engaging 3rd party auditors to assess the quality of ethics frameworks and also to interview employees periodically and confidentially.

The corporate structures for ethics and risk management are complicated by nature, because they have to work across a broad frontier of potential ethics and risk violations so this is typically handled via multiple paths and multiple layers.

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  • I may not understand the OP's question fully, but I'm not sure this addresses UX-centric ethics (though to be fair, I'm not sure what those refer to). I do agree that this is the typical structure of ethics policing in large organizations. – DA01 Jun 1 '15 at 15:43
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Just wondering if there are any examples of processes or standards in place within companies to raise ethical concerns related to UX design practices that anyone is aware of

You may find some of the things posted at discoveryethics.com & @discoveryethics of interest.

I would like to know which department and what positions are usually assigned this responsibility within a typical organisation.

There often isn't one. That seems to the the default position of most companies I work with. That's not to say they're unethical — just that it's not something that's addressed explicitly by a single group or role within an organisation.

I've seen some companies push ethical considerations into legal's domain. This does help deal with some issues, but the overlap is not 100%.

In academia you'll see groups called things like Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), or Ethical Review Board (ERBs). Sometimes these are within an institution or research group. You also get external for-profit IRBs who provide it as a service (folks like http://www.quorumreview.com/ for example.)

You'll see the same kind of IRB/ERB in some of the larger companies too — especially if they're working in domains like healthcare and medicine when it's a legal requirement.

The other input on ethical issues tends to be from professional bodies rather than from within companies. Things like the UXPA Code of Professional Conduct for example.

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Shouldn't a company that specifically design products/services based on the merits of their user experience recognize the implications of ethical design practices as a point of difference with their products/services? This is similar to the organic or fair trade brand of products that distinguish themselves by their practise of producing the products.

I think an organisation that has a CEO (Chief Experience Officer) or a Head of UX or UX lead or UX manager should all have the responsibility of making sure that the standards of ethical UX design is laid out for all personnel involved in UX design, and that they work with the HR and legal department to ensure that all issues or concerns can be raised freely.

Having said that, I have not seen this in practice, or I guess this is something that only works in theory so I am hoping there are some answers that will prove me wrong.

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  • Fair trade is really more about environmental and sourcing ethics. Maybe you can elaborate on the particular type of ethics you feel UX should be spearheading. – DA01 Jun 1 '15 at 0:50
  • @DA01 Environmental and sourcing ethics still deal with the process and outcome of the products/services that they provide, so in the same way the process and outcome of the products/services that are designed should be an emphasis for UX designers. – Michael Lai Jun 1 '15 at 5:26
  • But aren't UX designers already focused on that? I guess I'm not quite understanding the scenario. – DA01 Jun 1 '15 at 15:42

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