Ethical digital strategy: The importance of having values in digital delivery

John Prior, Solution Director,

Organisational ethics

You care about doing the right thing. Your organisation has ethics, whether those are defined formally or simply expressed through behaviours. You might think of it as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). You might be certified to ISO 26000, or ISO 14001, hold B Corp certification, or follow Science-Based Targets.

Maybe you're already doing all of these, or none of them – but you’re still trying to do the right thing, by your values, within the resources you have available. But if somebody asked, would you be able to tell them what those values are, and how they apply to your digital properties?

Ethical strategy in digital delivery

The ethics of digital delivery tend to get separated from digital strategy. They get relegated to the status of non-functional requirements; emotionless edicts that serve to restrict rather than enhance, ruptured from their intent. 

This makes it hard to make your digital standards live up to your organisational ideals: they’re not being articulated in the same terms. We’ve recently started to reconsider how we talk about non-functional requirements, how they can form a framework to support ethical digital delivery.

B Labs uses the JEDI framework as the foundation for the B Corp standard (Justice-Equality-Diversity-Inclusion); traditionally, CSR is considered to have four pillars of responsibility for social good (Environment, Human Rights, Charity and Economics).

But these are very broad frameworks that lace through all threads of your organisational operations, and we’re not here to force them into a digital context. In our thinking, there are three pairs of linked strands specific to an ethical digital delivery:

Accessibility and inclusivity

Your users have chosen to give you their attention, and that should be rewarded by delivering experiences that meet their needs. That includes all of your users, not just the ones its easiest to deliver to, or who are most like you.

Privacy and security

User privacy shouldn’t primarily be thought of as a regulatory requirement, nor security as a means of an organisation protecting itself from hostile actors (even if both those things are true). From an ethical perspective, this is about protecting your users’ interests, and being worthy of their trust.

Sustainability and performance

While it’s true that few would see performance requirements as restrictive in quite the same way as the other strands here, it is inextricably bound with sustainability considerations. These two strands are inextricably entangled, and you need to understand both the value of the experiences you deliver, and where the costs to deliver that value are incurred, so you can make good (in all senses of the word) design decisions.

By building these strands as your ethical strategy, expressing them in the context of your values rather than the requirements set by external standards, you can explain to stakeholders how your project and platform decisions contribute to the socially responsible outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

Delivering on the strategy

Calling something a strategy rather than a requirement doesn’t remove the complexities, of course. The values your strategy will express are going to be relatively simple, and human in scale, but in order to deliver those values there are standards to meet, regulations to follow, audits to complete. As a digital partner, we can help you to build your strategy for each strand to incorporate:

  • Value dimensions
  • Delivery mechanisms
  • Supporting processes
  • Measurement
  • Governance

You deliver on this by building decisions into your designs and functionality, not into a user training programme. You won’t live up to your values if you rely on internal users to become experts in myriad complex standards. The right decisions need to be the default; given daily pressures, the easiest decisions are the ones which even well-intentioned users will make.

Ethical strategy is an enabler

An ethical strategy is not a restrictive structure, but an enabling tool to align your actions with your values.

It explains your plans to your stakeholders so they can understand the human values behind the experiences you’re creating. And it provides the framework for your delivery tools to remove day-to-day complexity from your teams’ and users’ interactions and decision-making.

Your values are who you are, and who you are seen to be. It’s best to know what they are.  

About us

We’re 26, part of MSQ Partners, who achieved B Corp Certification in May 2023. We’re committed to a sustainable approach, not just in running our own business, but by leveraging our skills to support our clients to achieve more sustainable delivery too. If you’d like to speak to us about improving your own digital delivery through a sustainable lens, get in touch with our team.

John Prior, Solutions Director

John is our Solutions Director. He connects user experience, business process, and technology to identify opportunities to deliver innovative digital experiences that support organisations now and in the future. In more than a decade at 26, he’s helped clients across travel, ecommerce, edtech, professional services, public sector and more, bringing a wide knowledge of technologies and capabilities to diverse needs. 

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