Dealing with Uncertainties in Socially Responsible Design

Anders Haug, Jacob Busch


In recent decades, a plethora of books and papers on socially responsible design has emerged. This literature, however, is far from having solved the environmental and social problems faced by the world today. This paper focuses on a major problem of socially responsible design initiatives, namely that, although they may have the best intentions, they often have minimal, if any, positive impact. A central reason for this is the uncertainties associated with the effects of such designs, which is also often used as an argument against initiating more ambitious projects. More specifically, sometimes we are unsure about what effects a socially responsible design will produce, and sometimes we are unsure or disagree about whether its effects are ethically sound, in particular, when they involve someone having to make sacrifices. To be able to choose a more ambitious path, we need to better understand the uncertainties associated with socially responsible designs and to reconsider the ethical assumptions guiding our choices. This issue is addressed by defining a framework for understanding uncertainties associated with such projects and by arguing for a consequentialist ethics to govern socially responsible design.

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