Ethics are absolutely essential when it comes to successful technology adoption and data management in housing. In a sector literally as close to home as one can get, decisions made about the use of technology, how data is managed and which principles and purposes should guide those processes will all have an immense impact on the lives of tenants.
Ethical Intelligence Associates recently partnered with Platform Housing and RHP to bring this sentiment to life by creating and introducing an ethics-based smart-home IoT device procurement framework. This framework captures the rights of tenants, housing providers’ responsibilities and the values of sustainable living in action.
IoT device procurement framework
Classically, ethics is the study of what’s right and wrong. However, using ethics as a conceptual tool lets us understand what we truly value and align our actions to achieve those values. Technology exists on a spectrum, from a best-case to worst-case scenario. Using ethics based on our values, we can determine where a technology exists on that spectrum. We also can analyse each decision we could make to help us get closer to the best-case scenario.
The foundation of ethics is logic and the same is true of computing; it’s just that one is mathematical and the other is based on critical thinking. Ethics can be a great tool to help us answer the broader “why?” in any given scenario. For example, knowing why something is being deployed often helps organisations navigate through fluctuating regulations with confidence and presents fewer long-term reputational risks.
RHP’s head of technology and transformation Matt Ballantine contacted us following a Twitter recommendation. In one of his weekly podcasts, he recalls opening a report from his energy provider, which displayed a comprehensive breakdown of his energy usage for that month. It was at that moment when Ballantine came to an alarming realisation; smart meters and other similar devices claiming to collect seemingly-harmless data do in fact reveal a lot more about the behavioural habits of their users than initially considered. He wanted to reinforce this notion at RHP, that data points are people, not just numbers.
Ballantine recognised that with the growing number of smart-home IoT devices, it’s paramount that housing providers have a better understanding of the ethics behind their decisions – adopting new technologies must be thought about with care and consideration for each tenant’s wellbeing.
Embedding ethics into IT decisions
Realising the need for a standard to be established in the housing sector, RHP’s director of people and business services Lucy Graley, along with Platform Housing’s CIO Jon Cocker and head of information governance and assurance Colin Bailey joined the venture. The mission was simple: to create a user-friendly and interactive procurement framework and provide a wider signal to the housing sector and its IT suppliers about the importance of embedding ethics into the culture of data management and IT decision-making.
Ethical Intelligence joined the venture to providing expertise from several ethicists, including Olivia Gambelin (founder of Ethical Intelligence), Dr Willie Costello (a philosopher turned data scientist), Annie Valentine (data privacy expert), and Henry Potter (cybersecurity researcher).
Three questions to answer
After investigating housing providers’ procurement processes for smart-home IoT devices, we found three questions that should be answered before introducing a new solution: to adopt or not to adopt; how to adopt; and how to communicate.
A brilliant place to start is to assess whether the desired technology will support a housing provider’s values, mission and responsibilities and ensure it’s the best possible solution to the problem. It’s equally important to look at how housing providers can establish a robust data-management plan by vetting their IT suppliers and employing check-backs to see if a technology has fulfilled its intended purpose. Moreover, how housing providers communicate all of the above to their tenants is crucial for success. If followed comprehensively, the framework guides readers through the ethical thought-processes of adopting new data-driven technologies.
Critical thinking & ethics
This project created a valuable space for the formation of ideas, insights and critical thinking, thereby enabling RHP and Platform Housing to integrate ethics into their decision-making. By placing the wellbeing of tenants at the core, this framework now ensures confident decision-making for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Housing providers shouldn’t fear or shy away from the rise in smart-home technologies hitting the market. Though they are receiving an influx of extremely sensitive data from their tenants, there are practical steps they can take to mitigate the risks, both ethically and systematically. In turn, tenants need to trust their housing providers.
RHP and Platform Housing both recognised their heightened responsibilities regarding smart-home technologies, and what sets them apart at the moment are their respective abilities to transform their intuitions into actions.
Matthew Henderson is the CCO of Ethical Intelligence Associates.