A new generation of data ethics professionals trained by the ODI are crafting firmer foundations for data today so that new data-powered technologies like AI serve us better tomorrow.
“If AI is going to do a lot of our work for us in the future, can we make AI better than us? That’s why I want to be part of the AI revolution.” Like all the certified Data Ethics Professionals I have spoken to over the past few weeks, Jack Liu, a BUPA Australia data manager, is passionate about using his skills and experience to shape a better future for his company, community, and family. Jack achieved Data Ethics Professional status after attending training with the ODI.
If AI is going to do a lot of our work for us in the future, can we make AI better than us?
Data ethics come before AI ethics
What excites Jack isn’t thinking theoretically about what might happen with AI in the future, although that’s important. For Jack and his fellow students, data ethics is about doing better work with data today so that tools like AI benefit everyone tomorrow.
Carmen Ng, a Siemens communications manager, agrees, “While there is more attention about the risk of AI. Too little attention has been given to the basic unit of AI: data. Data ethics come before AI ethics.”
Data's foundational role in our lives, and the rise of new technologies like AI, is what motivated Carmen and Jack to seek a more balanced approach towards working with data - so that it creates benefits without causing harm.
Ignoring data ethics is not an option
People often ignore the risk to their businesses and the wider community in the race to stay competitive and adopt new data technologies. When risk is ignored, companies run into legal and reputational problems. It’s rarely due to deviousness. Mostly, it’s because people haven’t thought through the ethics of their work.
Marion Shaw, Head of Data and Analytics at Chaucer Group, a leading reinsurance company, explains, “Data is moving at the speed of light, but in an effort to make lives easier for people, things have been done without anyone really understanding the implications. I go to a lot of conferences and watch webinars. And it’s quite worrying how much ethics are overlooked. I don’t think in a malicious way, but perhaps more out of a lack of knowledge.”
Practical tools bring data ethics to life
Not overlooking data ethics would seem to be a good start to tackling the potential for harm. But that requires structure, as Jack tells me, “A lot of the time, people working with data rely on common sense, but when there are potentially tricky situations, like with fraud detection, knowing how to use frameworks like the Data Ethics Canvas gives us guidance”
The Data Ethics Canvas is a tool Jack, Marion, and Carmen learned to use during the ODI’s Data Ethics Professional course. A resource born from the ODI’s research and projects, the canvas and its use exemplify why the course’s combination of researched-based theory and practical techniques appeals to a broad range of professions.
A global Data Ethics Professional community
Consultants, lawyers, engineers, data scientists and product owners are among a diverse group of people worldwide who have completed the training and met the standard required to be an ODI-certified Data Ethics Professional. The broad mix of global participants is intrinsic to the course’s appeal. It is made possible by a virtual approach that, over 6 weeks, combines tutor-led workshops, self-guided e-learning and case-study analysis.
“Sometimes you attend a course, and it’s just broadcast at you”, adds Josh McClinton, a consultant in workforce planning for the Government of Jersey, “but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The ramp-up of content was good, and the collaboration with other people in breakout rooms and smaller groups was very good”.
Getting certified as a Data Ethics Professional
In addition to e-learning and group workshops, those wishing to get certified as a Data Ethics Professional run a short facilitated group session and develop a case study that explores both the practice and theory of data ethics on a subject selected by the learner. For many, this is the course's most rewarding element. “I think it’s a really good way to get into the topic,” says Josh.
Carmen, who was studying for a Master's whilst also undertaking the ODI course, found developing her case study demanding but also found it to be a useful way to put what she learnt on the course into practice, “Some of my other master's degree assignments about AI ethics doesn't even go into a use case level. So actually, I really liked the ODI exercise”.
Completing the case study successfully is the final step to becoming certified as a Data Ethics Professional. For participants, it’s a highly valued badge of credibility, listed on the ODI website, that opens up new work opportunities. The Data Ethics Professionals I spoke to are now implementing more formal approaches to data ethics for their companies and their wider communities.
Operationalising data ethics
Adopting formal approaches to data ethics, guided by an expert, is the first step towards operationalising data ethics in organisations. It quickly leads to greater confidence about using data in ways that create value whilst avoiding harm.
Getting certified also inspires participants to spread the word about data ethics more widely in their communities. For example, Josh from the Jersey Government is regularly asked to give talks about data ethics to his peers. And Carmen from Siemens has combined data ethics knowledge with her journalism background to run workshops on data ethics for Hong Kong citizens.
“I really want to do more literacy outreach work. So I created a workshop in Cantonese and designed my own materials. It’s filling a gap for people who are being affected by data-driven technology but don’t really have the time to understand the complexity”.
'Data’ and ‘excitement’, are not words you’d expect to co-exist happily. But for Data Ethics Professionals, it’s their world. A world they’re determined to change for the better.
Shaping data’s future for us all
Whether it’s building citizen literacy, shaping AI's future or ensuring that current work doesn’t cause harm, there’s lots to do. The future looks exciting for ODI-certified Data Ethics Professionals.
“I think it's going to be like a roller coaster”, concludes Marion “You're going to go from being excited and exhilarated to absolutely terrified, all in the space of a moment”.
‘Data’ and ‘excitement’, are not words you’d expect to co-exist happily. But for Data Ethics Professionals, it’s their world. A world they’re determined to change for the better.