RESEARCH
  • Governance

New Responsibilities in the Digital Age

New research offers guidance for businesses on engaging with digital technology responsibly

 

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The short-lived age of digital innocence is over – exemplified by bad developments from fake news to cyberbullying. Now, with AI and quantum computing set to fuel our future, unless urgent action is taken to assert control and ensure ethical practises predominate, the dark-side will spread.

As machines can only go where humans ask them, humans can determine the ethics and values of the digital- AI-enabled world. But to do so puts a range of new responsibilities on human shoulders. New research from Associate Professor Georgiana Grigore and Professor Mike Molesworth, at Henley Business School, defines these responsibilities in the context of the workplace and sets out guiding principles to help organizations ensure that they are responsible actors in the digital economy.

Digital technologies are rapidly advancing (a recent survey of CEOs by EY found 87% were investing significantly in AI). This will undoubtedly bring huge benefits to businesses and society, but many potential downsides too.

This new research looks at a consequent gap in corporate responsibility; whereas other areas of responsibility (such as sustainability, responsible employment practices and stakeholder engagement) have been integrated into business strategies, responsibility for the unintended consequences of digital technologies has usually not been.

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Join The Strategy Programme at Henley Business School to kick-start a process of strategic review for your organization

Dates: 6 Nov 2019; 19 May 2020; 4 Nov 2020 │ Format: In-class study

Location: Henley on Thames, UK

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Interviewing senior managers across a wide range of industry sectors, the researchers focused on four key areas of concern:

  • Development of AI and planning for future jobs and skills
  • Use of employee-related communications with implications for work–life balance
  • Use of data and monitoring technologies with implications for people’s privacy, surveillance and security
  • Use of social media with implications for well-being and mental health

While their study aims to inform business and organizational practice, the researchers highlight the significance of managers’ experiences as consumers, parents and citizens in providing perspectives that may otherwise be absent at work. Perspectives that can be essential in encouraging managers to reflect on their concerns and act to improve the responsible use of technology in their organizations.

Many managers described feeling the technology was ‘beyond their control’. To address this feeling the researchers suggested three important actions: first to clearly define who in the organization should deal with organizational responsibilities relating to digital technologies; secondly to allow time for reflection on the impact of the adoption of digital technology; and thirdly to ensure key performance indicators are designed to promote responsible use of digital technology.

Core principles for responsibility in the digital economy

These are the four core principles the research team recommend business should adopt:

  1. Respond to new areas of responsibility by acknowledging the key risks and vulnerabilities, including from managers’ experience outside of work. Seek to understand and deal with potentially negative consequences of the use of digital technology as they emerge.
  2. Establish the ways in which the organization can be more responsible. Organizations might ensure that there are specific staff who are able to develop policy relating to the responsible use of digital technology and empower them to do so. Organizations should avoid routinely externalising responsibility to government, consumers or other organizations.
  3. Action should be taken to reduce the negative impact of digital technology on internal or external stakeholders. Where use of digital technology is known to have negative societal consequences, organizations can aim to prevent these, including by modifying the use of digital technology, discontinuing its use or mitigating consequences with other activities. They should have policies in place to achieve these goals, and managers able to enforce them if necessary.
  4. Learn about negative impacts of technology from stakeholders and provide education about digital technology. Have in place a transparent system for recording, reflecting on and reporting – both internally and externally – the responsible use of digital technology such that there is ongoing improvement.

“The negative unintended consequences of technology use are now routinely reported in the media. We wanted to understand how managers experience technology and in doing so find ways to ensure organizations are both better aware of these new responsibilities, and able develop approaches to deal with them.” Dr Georgiana Grigore, Associate Professor of Marketing at Henley Business School

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Download the Henley research white paper: New Responsibilities in the Digital Economy


Set in the heart of the Thames Valley and conveniently located for London, Henley is one of the oldest and most respected business schools in Europe. Number 20 in the world for the combined ranking of open and custom programmes (FT 2019), it is part of an elite group of business schools to be triple-accredited for the quality and capability of faculty and output.





 
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