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CBiS/ESRC Keywords Policy Seminar

ETHICS:
Research and Responsibility in Business and Society

Background
On June 10th, 2015 a seminar was co-organised by the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS),
Coventry University and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the ESRC
Keyword Policy Seminar series being held around the UK.
The aim of the event was to promote understanding and constructive discussion between different
actors and stakeholders regarding the theme of Ethics: Research and Responsibility in Business and
Society. By bring together leading commentators and representatives from business and society, the
organisers hoped to take a fresh look at understanding the diverse perspectives on ethics, ethical
behaviour and social responsibility. Those who attended came from the academic, policy and
practitioner communities to debate and shape priorities for values-based business and organisational
leadership, responsibility, research collaboration and policy setting.
Many of the issues organisations face from climate change to corruption, cybersecurity to
sustainable supply chains - are so large and complex that they require collective responses. While
recognising that multi-sector, multi-stakeholder partnerships are necessary to respond to the many
challenges facing business, government and civil society, there are numerous barriers to those
groups communicating and working together effectively.
The Ethics Keyword seminar set out to gather together the communities and organisations with which
researchers from economics and social sciences engage, to learn more about the gaps in
understanding between these groups, and to find ways to begin to overcome these and work
towards shared understandings, strategic priorities and objectives.
The aim was not to find people who already speak the same language but to explore how groups
think about and use concepts differently to start from where we all (diversely) are and to share
experiences and insights to help understand the conceptual sticking points. Participants represented
a range of organisations and sectors including jewellery, defence, food, energy, finance, transport,
media, security, local government, creative and arts.
This report presents an overview of the key messages that emerged on the day from the different
discussion groups regarding social responsibility and ethics. The intention is to use this knowledge to
inform and maximise the impact of social science research beyond academia.

Keynote Speakers
4 keynote speakers opened the event, drawing on their experiences to outline some of the ethical
and responsibility challenges and conflicts they face in their respective industries and work. Their
comments were intentionally chosen to act as catalysts for debate, given that many of the issues they
raised were potentially controversial and divisive. These are summarised below:
Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Coventry University opened the seminar
by reflecting on his work in cybernetics and robotics research over a number of years. In particular
he highlighted the fluidity of what society understands to be ethical and responsible, given the pace
of change in science and innovation development; a key message he communicated was that ethics
and morality are very much time dependent. Among issues he debated were the ethics of
technology implants and tracking devices. Technology gives us the ability to place identification chips
in humans, even children. Some parents, particularly those worried about child abduction, welcome
the ability to track their childs whereabouts and the increased sense of safety that might deliver,
but such behaviour raises numerous ethical and civil liberties issues. While it may well be technically
possible to use chip implants in this way, questions remain about whether it is culturally acceptable.
Indeed, RFID (radio frequency identification) chips have already provoked controversy in the US
following (unfounded) rumours that President Obama's health care reforms would require every US
citizen to have one implanted. In 2007, The American Medical Association (AMA) established a code
of ethics to protect patients' receiving RFID implants, following evaluation by the AMA's council on
Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) which debated ethical issues relating to using RFID implants for
medical purposes. While the report acknowledged that RFID chips use in health care may represent
a promising development in information technology, it inevitably raises important ethical, legal and
social issues. Even so, this technology is already in action in Sweden at the offices of Epicenter
(https://epicenterstockholm.com/) where human chip implants are replacing swipe cards to access,
among other services, door entry, canteen food and photocopiers.
In conclusion to his presentation, Kevin noted that we need to acknowledge that ethics are not
unequivocal. When it comes to new technology to consider issues as dichotomously good or bad
is unhelpful, particularly when technology constantly throws up new ethical dilemmas that have not
yet been fully imagined or understood by either the scientists or wider stakeholders.
The second speaker Dr. Christian Toennesen Senior Partner at Carnstone Partners LLP brought
a broader perspective to the seminar, reflecting on his experience of working with multinationals in
a wide range of sectors such as food, professional services, pharmaceutical, financial services, oil and
gas and media sectors. Christian tackled the issue of intransigency within large organisations and the
challenges that we face manifesting change within what can be incredibly rigid structures. Most
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change regarding business ethics happens incrementally, and many industries and sectors are slow to
act until business as usual is no longer tenable due to some damaging tipping point that occurs.
Often these tipping points are caused by an external event that may well have been predictable, but
nonetheless was ignored by companies and industries who refused to acknowledge and act upon
their ethical and moral responsibilities. Christian cited some well known examples of industries
whose ethical and moral weaknesses were exposed in highly public tipping points, such as the Millie
Dowler phone hacking case which proved catalytic for newspaper and journalist responsibilities. He
reflected that big corporations are not morality-free zones; people know irresponsible acts are
taking place within industries, but they will often develop sophisticated approaches to offload blame
onto others. So, when in the 1990s Phil Knight argued that Nike could not be responsible for its
entire clothing supply chain, he was absolving himself of any blame for the actions of his
subcontractors, and voicing a commonly held view which persists today in a number of organisations
and industries. However, public mood can shift, and unfortunately it is often not until punitive
actions are underway that any change in business ethics is triggered. As a closing thought Christian
suggested organisations need to consider what would potentially knock you out of business
tomorrow? as a guiding strategy to how they should develop their sense of business ethics and
social responsibility.
Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council developed the theme of business
responsibility, focusing his discussion on the food industry, one that raises many issues such as food
poverty, food waste, GM, food miles and unsustainable production methods (e.g. food production
contributes massively to gashouse emissions). He used the example of the meat industry which is
potentially moving towards a tipping point of its own, under pressure from NGOs, livestock farmers
and retailers. Eating less meat is a hard sell to an industry that traditionally focuses on selling more
product, yet demarketing is a conversation that is now being held with stakeholders in the industry.
The aim is to focus on less, but better quality meat as a response to the problems stemming from
current production methods. New industry approaches are also needed in the livestock dialogue
that include understanding of other perspectives, such as those of future generations that will have
to live with the decisions we make today. Dan noted that the food system also suffers from the
narrative of legitimisation highlighted by Christian Toennesen whereby players pass the buck in
endless chains of blame. The view that we cant afford to get ahead of the consumer is a common
theme in many industries, not just food, and often used as a reason not to implement change. Citing
the need for transformative change alongside smaller steps, Dan argued for more shared
responsibility, and suggested a pragmatic approach to ethics: in essence what should I do, all things
considered?

The final speaker Councillor Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Green, Smart and Sustainable
City at Birmingham City Council examined ethics and responsibility through a local government
lens. Citing the enormous economic changes that UK local government services have been facing in
recent years, and the challenging service cuts that Birmingham City Council has had to make, she
picked up the theme of change and evolving ethics and responsibility. Lisa highlighted how the
context of local government operations is changing so rapidly that old approaches are no longer fit
for purpose and simply dont work. The incremental changes that Christian Toennesen indicated
are inherent in large organisations need to be speeded up; the risks that are being faced require new
ways of combining knowledge and action. Lisa listed many of the barriers to that change: barriers to
shared and open data; barriers to cross-sector working; public and private sector co-operation
challenges. A culture of trust simply doesnt exist. She illustrated her presentation with examples of
how Birmingham City Council are trying to implement changes that will circumvent some of these
entrenched obstacles, such as their Active Parks initiative to overcome service constraints on health
and wellbeing. By taking exercise out of the leisure centres and into the parks (i.e. leisure centres
without walls), they aim to both increase wellbeing and engagement in exercise while balancing the
very limited budget available for delivery. Creative strategies include a free bike giveaway of 5000
cycles under the Big Birmingham Bikes scheme. Lisa said the bikes and hire schemes will enable
people who cannot afford a bike and who want to cycle a chance of having one, opening up this
sustainable form of transport to more people across Birmingham.

Discussions and broader debate


Following on from the speakers, roundtable discussions were held to discuss and develop the
themes that had been raised. Key points and issues are outlined below, grouped into the three main
areas of debate that emerged. The reflections below represent a starting point for the development
of new research ideas that can begin to address some of the dilemmas, tensions and conflicts that
the discussants touched upon:

THE CHALLENGES OF RESPONSIBILITY RELATING TO BUSINESS AND SOCIETY


It has been suggested that the power of government is shrinking while that of business (at least
global corporations) is on the rise, making business crucial to any countrys development. However,
with that power has come increased scrutiny from a number of stakeholders including regulators,
NGOs and consumers. Questions are being asked about corporate ethics and responsibility, and
there is increasing appetite for cross-sector partnerships. However, multi-stakeholder forums have
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been accused of merely consensus building rather than instituting radical change. Despite the
questions being asked of them many businesses have been reluctant to listen, paying attention to
issues that represent risk, but resistant to change nonetheless. All of this represents key challenges
for research in business and society. Against this backdrop, the following points emerged from
another of the seminar discussions:
a) Within supply change management (e.g. in mining for precious metals), the challenge is to be
able to take custody of the process in order to ensure provenance. We dont know if/when
the consumer mind-set will change but we expect that it will and industries like the jewellery
and fashion sectors need to be ready for that tipping point. This means a key priority is to
build a sustainable and responsible supply network.
b) In the short term our priority is consideration of business and research ethics to try to
ensure that we achieve a win win for governments, business and participants. For example,
in areas where mining is taking place illegally in world heritage sites, we need to consider
that action to remove people from these sites might drive the activity into hidden areas that
could be worse for the workers and the environment. We need to ensure that we dont
compromise the miners who participate in our research by compromising anonymity and
confidentiality (e.g. publishing photos of communities/individuals engaging in illegal mining
activity). We also need to encourage openness to sort the issues out not jump to establish
legislation that might have unforeseen negative impacts.
Long term we are working towards supply chain transparency, but there are dinosaurs
(individuals and businesses) in the industry holding things back e.g. 100 years of cartelism in
the diamond industry. Realistically it might be decades before jewellery can be described as
an ethical industry.
c) Corporate misconduct is having an effect beyond the individual industries where the
offences take place. For example, the media sector is no longer seen as being soft impact in
terms of ethical risks and therefore no longer a safe bet for investors. Ethical considerations
can change the business model for media as well as elsewhere. Current debate within
academic publications academics engage in unpaid peer review and/or higher education
establishments sponsor research but are then expected to pay for access when publishing
and disseminating findings. Pressure is now emerging to change the business model, with
threats to stop funding research unless there are assurances that it will be published with
open access.

d) When research is sponsored where does the vested interest and power lie? For example,
should a major oil or gas company be a sponsor of academic research into climate change,
given the position that many energy firms take on climate change? While there are ethical
dilemmas to be debated, we also need to recognise that we cant have an impact if we have
no seat at the table; therefore we need to get inside the conversations and act like a critical
friend. Influence requires access. An example put forward was the funding awarded in 2000
to the University of Nottingham from tobacco firm BAT which was strongly criticised at the
time by cancer care and research charities, as well as other commentators. The University
of Nottingham used the funds to set up Britain's first International Centre for Corporate
Social Responsibility, which studied the social and environmental responsibilities of multinational companies.
e) Progress requires public trust which requires access to independent research based on an
independent body of evidence but what does independent mean? What are the guidelines?
How do we explain this to the public e.g. ESRC is independent but funded by the
government therefore perceived to have political interest this makes it hard to sell it as
independent to the public. But, is research ever really independent? There are resource
constraints and skewed objectives e.g. the type of research that academics are required to
deliver for REF (Research Excellence Framework) might be cynically described as research
that aims to show how clever you are in publications that no one reads! If research is to be
used for real policy change, it requires a different type of writing and approach. The impact
agenda that is to some extent now driving aspects of academic research raises new issues
and is problematic given that it is at odds with what it takes to achieve highly rated
publications for the REF.
f)

Despite the many debates around integrity, independence and research, academics, for the
most part, are still seen as independent by the public which makes it easier to get access
to top decision makers. This means academics can act as arbitrators who can open doors to
difficult conversations. It is more complicated for NGOs to be independent or unbiased,
since they often dont have the skill set or expertise and/or they have a vested interest
dependent on project objectives and source of funding. NGOs are also not held to account
(unlike academic research that is subject to peer review); they are often going for headlines
(for maximum cause impact) and looking to gain contributions and members. In some ways
this behaviour is more like a business. Some are very well funded which makes them difficult
to challenge e.g. World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth. They too are not truly
independent, e.g. on climate change, they are advocates for a particular position.

Who are the key groups affected by these challenges, who causes the challenges and who has
the most influence to address them?
-

Campaigns for change often overlook the complexities of who is damaged, who benefits,
who has access it is a nuanced discussion. When problems are promoted in a simple
narrative then the legislative response can be over-simplified, and that may be counterproductive. Example there are no constraints on who can start a jewellery company. Given
the many issues in this industry and dangers of rogue traders, this is something that needs to
be regulated (nationally and internationally). But there are still problems in regulated
industries, so it is not just the start-up regulation thats the problem.

Consumer pressure could expedite change and may be used to leverage a bigger movement
but, realistically, is the consumer pressure there? Not it seems in jewellery. UK leads world
on fair trade but not because the consumers care; rather it is about actions of concerned
individuals and small organisations. Consumer opinion is seen as important by business e.g.
Russian Gazprom seeking to become football sponsor in order to create the image of a
proper company and win public favour; whilst Russia and Middle East sponsor the campaign
against shale gas exploration.
The problem is consumer opinion can easily be manipulated in the media, have created
good and bad companies e.g. one participant noted that Tesco supply chains are much
more rigorously checked on ethical grounds than the Co-ops yet Tesco often portrayed as
bad whilst Co-op is depicted as good despite the problems within their infrastructure.

How can these issues be addressed?


-

The discussion agreed that it cannot be about incremental change based on old business
models. There is a need to re-frame the issues, in terms of climate change we are in crisis
there is no more business as usual, need to revolutionise thinking. So, for example,
funds for improvements to transport network generally get invested in roadbased schemes
in response to business community demands and perceptions of their needs. But road
investment leads to more traffic, greater congestion and gridlock. How do we change the

view of what is required? Information? Education? Who will fund the research to investigate
the change? How will we convince people of the need to change?
-

There is also frustration with politicians at a national level due to their reluctance to make
unpopular decisions e.g. at the UN summit on carbon emissions the NGOs tabled an
evidence based plan for progress but politicians could not agree on implementation.
Denmark introduced a policy to pioneer wind energy, it was very unpopular at the time but
they are now a world leader in this area and the policy is more accepted but it needed
someone to risk popularity for change. Australian gun law change and plain tobacco
packaging was also very unpopular at the time of introduction, but has been made significant
impacts. Social networking makes it easier for people to voice complaints this may be
another reason politicians are reluctant to risk unpopular change.

Is information the solution? Information leads to knowledge. People have a lot of


information, but it can be difficult to make sense of it, and want a trusted translator e.g
Which, or even TopGear can play that role. Therefore we need more information for the
public that has been subject to review in order to create trust.

Do academics hold this position of trust in the public eye? They are generally accepted to
have analytical ability, which is an important discriminator in resolving some of these
challenges.

Emerging from this discussion were the following key research priorities:

Research needs to monitor changes in business ethics

Who are the leaders in the industry?


What can we learn from them?
How have they been influenced?
What is the tone at the top?
What is the role of leadership in fostering business ethics?

The ethics of impact


What are we trying to achieve via impact?
On whose behalf?
On whose authority?
Who defines impact and should we really be doing it?

Is it part of academic responsibility to turn research into policy?

How can people most usefully join forces to address business ethics issues?

THE CHALLENGES OF RESPONSIBILITY RELATING TO COMMUNITY AND


SOCIETY
Whilst the participants in this group came from a range of organisations, a common factor was their
commitment to positive social change reflected in their professional and personal values which came
through in the discussion. Social change was discussed in terms of the relationships within
organisations as well as customer/client relations, based on an ethic of care, and having the freedom
to work towards these goals without constraint from the government and various bodies.
Measuring social impact was a reoccurring theme, illustrating the dissatisfaction with the dominant
capitalist model determining decisions based on economic impact; delegates highlighted the need for
alternative ways and models of working and measuring impact and value.
Against this backdrop, the following points emerged from another of the seminar discussions linked
to the challenges sector representatives faced:
a) One issue that was shared was the disconnect that exist between public and private, and
the different success metrics employed in each. The discussion pointed out the need to
improve engagement and acknowledge that there are different languages spoken by different
stakeholders. An internal challenge for one community engagement organisation was to be
able to provide evidence in making tough decisions about people joining the organization;
there is a question of grant administration (whether to get involved or not; does the delivery
approach taken really have an impact for the community?). The ethics of equal opportunities
within organisations was raised on the back of discussions around competitiveness between
departments within organisations, highlighting the need for better team working and positive
organisational cultures.
b) A creative industry finance organisation participant said there was too much market focus
delivery, arguing that there should also be head space to develop the business. His view was
that intellectual property should be maintained and developed and there should be no open
data. This went to the heart of how to create economy that is enterprise driven. This was
supported by another creative community representative who stated that the capitalist
model dominates, but how about the triple bottom line (e.g. how much has social impact
moved on? Have we considered happiness, mindfulness, health and wellbeing; are we
looking for new ways of working). Others also suggested about thinking of quality of life;
interlace creating wealth with just loving what they do, and there was also a comment on

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how targets are very idealistic; there are soft objectives to think of. Therefore, the
dominance of the capitalist model impacts on goals focused on social change.
c) One participant from a third sector organisation focusing on community engagement via
environmental initiatives noted how important image was to the public, and the need to be
able to package messages for different audiences (public, and internal). The need to tell a
story in presenting achievements from community organisations/social enterprises which are
different to those of other businesses was also highlighted. This can cause internal
organisational tensions, something other delegates also experienced.
d) The social value of community groups should be acknowledged peoples commitment is
important; there is a need to understand who are the volunteers? who helps? People have
both formal roles and volunteering roles, but there is the danger that their roles are
becoming lost in the community (possibly because of the professional and other demands on
peoples time the community are losing out on these peoples contribution and
commitments). How do we stop this i.e. allowing people to undertake such work based on
their values in a professional and voluntary capacity.
The discussion also highlighted the role of top management and their commitment. What is
the incentive? Infinite growth? How do we incentivise people to do things? Do we need
radical steps to shake the system? The sense of the discussion was that yes, radical steps are
needed. Mindfulness came in because of worst case. Companies dont how know how to
let go of historical systems that are in place, and change tended to happen only when things
go wrong. With this mind-set, learning from past experiences and practices should be
better recognised. The change in management was also highlighted by one participant, with
younger managers in the creative sector who have different styles and goals (in contrast to
those around the table), which could have a negative effect.
e) In the case of financial services, the challenge is about doing the right thing. For example,
one organisational representative spoke of how their building society established teams for
health and social status as criteria for understanding vulnerable consumers. Yet, what are the
consequences of doing this? For example, what is the role of using health problems (e.g.
cancer) to offer better deals for people? We need to treat people differently and in the
workplace you make value judgment of customers based on their individual circumstances
but what about the outcomes? Thus there is the challenge of having to deal with being seen
doing the right thing while dealing with the backlash of doing the right thing. We need to
ask what do you need? Such attention to personal circumstances, and what people
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genuinely need, may not align to the outputs required by organisations. Hence, there is a
need to change the business model towards consumer needs. But what is the right thing to
do? There was a sense that when it comes to finance, everything is cheap, with no ethics
involved. Another participant pointed that there is a need for something to happen i.e. a
tipping point, then it will raise issues about ethical parameters (for example the case of
payday loans- where currently no ethical parameters are set).
f)

Another community finance organisation noted the challenges of balancing social good with
regulation and government interference. As a credit union, their main challenge is the FSA
regulationwhy do credit unions need to be regulated like banks? What should
government be doing for them given their role in supporting often vulnerable individuals?
The government should provide infrastructure such as databases, as well as regulation.
However government intervention is making it harder there is confusion and their role
should be simplified rather than made more complex. As such, the government should
support this sector which is contributing towards social enhancement. Keeping some
continuity was seen as important, rather than the government regularly changing things as a
result of political cycles.

g) In terms of supporting the arts in the current climate of funding reductions, there is a
determined attempt in art organisations to develop new income streams leveraging the
intrinsic value of the arts.
h) Again, reflecting on the dominant capitalist model, the discussion focused on consumers and
citizens. Disconnection was raised and the loss of common areas (the commons).
Corporation and privatisation is operating around the commons yet participants recognised
they are uncomfortable with this control. How about community activism? Has it become
the normownership is important? Protest groups seem to signal risk so the question
becomes who/which is the next sector to be under fire?

Emerging from this discussion were the following key research challenges:

There are tensions between receiving funding and what is actually delivered there can be a

difference between research that is good for the people participating/involved vs research that has
academically prescribed impact, with a pre-determined agenda from funders. Allowing the research
community to have the freedom to undertake research with the wider community is needed.

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Rather than research only looking at what is happening here and now, research programmes

also should also be forward thinking and look at questions to answer in the future.

Managing relationships and the challenges of considering turning money down or not

applying for funding because of the nature of organisation offering the funds; organisations may not
be perceived as ethical but due to the lack of funding, values may be compromised. Again, what is
the right thing to do?

Determining the right thing to do in terms of consumer conduct and putting the consumers

needs at the heart. Would a change of framework be helpful?

How do we translate social impact on decision making? i.e. the need for decision making to

be transparent especially in terms of decisions around social impact what are the parameters and
metrics used for example. There is a need for a common framework for decision making. Currently,
the concept of research is different across organisations. Delegates discussed the importance of soft
objectives, rather than the need for quantification, which seems to be dominating at present.

THE CHALLENGES OF RESPONSIBILITY RELATING TO SOCIAL MEDIA AND


DATA
A recent ESRC study was led by Professor Vania Sena, Director of the ESRC Business and Local
Government Data Research Centre at the University of Essex. Regarding the challenges of big data,
her findings revealed that different groups have different concerns when it comes to how data is
used. Businesses worry about commercial sensitivity of information; local government is focused on
compliance and the legislative aspects of data confidentiality, while the public need reassurance about
how data will be used, and whether or not individuals private information will be treated
confidentially.
The discussion at the seminar echoed these findings; one of the main concerns was regarding data
collection. Key discussion points included:
a)

Recognition that data challenges are becoming more predominant, especially given the

ubiquity of global connection via the Internet, social media, etc.


b)

Personal data was defined as data associated with a single individual; the related concern

was when personal data becomes publicly available.

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c)

Attitudes and behaviour differ regarding personal and business data. For instance, businesses

that are connected in a worldwide network try to keep secret some data or information, resulting in
a phenomenon of social resistance to shared data. On the other hand, an individual, using social
platforms may hide some personal details or report misinformation about him or herself.
d)

Another point of debate related to the generation of data; website, cookies, etc. which track

consumers behaviour. In such instances the consumer may reach a tipping point after which data
collection is resisted. Participants voiced concerns regarding the possible misuse of data and
information retrieved from the Internet and consequently the ethical implication of data generation
from the Internet that is not always fully understood by the public. This raises the question of
corporate social responsibility and what an organisations role might be in this area.
e)

Today it appears that data is internationally owned due to open data and open access,

raising concerns about governance. Thus, what kind of data should be available and how can we use
this data? In this respect, it may be worth distinguishing between social and personal purposes, if
indeed this is possible. People are uncomfortable with the idea of someone (business or person)
accessing their data for personal use, for example, tracking down an individuals home address,
raising potential dangers of stalking. On the other hand, when data is used for social purposes, for
example, targeting all first year students arriving on campus, the borders become blurred, meaning
that an agreement of a common social purpose is not achieved.
Does social purpose refer to the practice of research centres conducting studies or/and private
companies using data to conduct market research to eventually increase their revenue? Similarly if
web search engines use ones data, that individual may benefit in terms of fame, leading to a new
concept, i.e. web search engines as new researchers.
f)

People are not generally confident or digitally literate about how social media sites, search

engines and video sites manage and store their data. However, despite the distrust and the fear of
the possible misuse of personal information, very few people take further steps to protect
themselves, for instance by encrypting their devices, denying the provision of information to
companies, etc. The majority is mainly divided into three main categories 1) those who do not know
the potential risks connected to data misuse; 2) those who do not care about this; 3) those who feel
powerless to do anything.
g)

Many people are not interested about the kind of information and data that is usually

provided via the Internet, social media, websites etc. New generations in particular, who may be
heavier users of technology and the internet, are likely to not perceive any risks related to freely and
indiscriminately giving their own personal data to third parties.

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h)

A trade-off has emerged between convenience and security, i.e. everyone makes daily

decisions about privacy versus security versus convenience. For instance, CCTV is perceived to
provide some value (security) despite the accompanying loss of privacy. Another example comes
from adverts appearing via email providers; suggesting that someone is looking over our shoulder, as
(through personal data mining) it advertises products and services in which we may be interested.
Thus, we sacrifice privacy for convenience, as businesses provide us with free services (adverts).
i)

As far as the regulatory framework is concerned, each country has its own rules to regulate

personal data protection and management, leading to inconsistencies around responsible data
management. The US has extensive experience in regulation of personal information; leading to a
growth in the business of insuring personal data. It means that increasing numbers of people seek to
insure their personal data from unethical or irresponsible use. On the other hand, China has not yet
implemented any rules related to collection, storage and transmission of personal information. In the
UK, a general lack of public understanding of risk connected with data exists. It follows that policy
makers should ensure that the ethics connected to the potential misuse of personal data in the
multimedia platforms is generally understood and protected. Policy makers have many stakeholders
and receive a number of inputs and requests from the environment, meaning that one of the tough
roles of policy making is to align these different interests.
j)

Both government and private companies collect personal data from people for either

institutional purposes or to monitor consumers behaviour. A sense of trust has emerged in respect
of some private businesses vis a vis government. This leads to situations where people are often
sanguine about their data being used for marketing purposes to offer attractive discounts or targeted
promotions, yet react unhappily when their privacy and personal space is violated, as in regards to
online SPAM or unsolicited phone sales. However, it has emerged that the loss of real privacy
seems inevitable, since personal information is too easily switched from private to the public sphere.
We realise we are healthy carriers of data and information which are collected, studied and
monitored, but without a real understanding of the risks connected with that. What was also evident
in the discussion was that (perhaps reflecting societys attitudes to the digital world) the participants
were very focused on the debate about data and privacy, and there was less discussion of how
innovation and disruption impacts on the wider socio-economic landscape.
Who are the key groups affected by these challenges, who causes the challenges and who has
the most influence to address them?
Regarding how some of these concerns and challenges can be addressed, participants in the
discussion identified an important role for research that supports policy makers to make better
decisions around data is managed and used. There was also a need to gain a better understanding of
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social and individual behaviour around social media and data, and a greater appreciation of the
different kind of societies that we live in, including their differing responses to connectivity and data.
Research that can tackle the sticky issues around who decides what is good for an individual and
society, and the increasingly blurred border between private and public space was also seen as
potentially valuable. For example, data collection concern has risen because of the spread of
technology, but at the same time data collection may represent a valid tool and a potential solution
to prevent the misuse of personal data. It was also a view that the ethical framework within which
we live has to provide a balance between eradicating poverty, and providing sufficient freedom for
our innovators and entrepreneurs to thrive, but not without governance (including legislation) to
provide guidance on ethics and responsibilities. Indeed developing the technology is not necessarily
the most difficult bit; understanding that all innovations need to cross complex socio-economic
landscapes, that can be where many ideas come unstuck. Our discussants reflected that tech
companies dont have a lot of control over this latter aspect.
Emerging from this were some key research priorities:
a)

to understand digital awareness within society

b)

to identify/determine where the border is to discriminate between acceptable and

unacceptable data collection and use of data in public


c)

to investigate how policy makers could better regulate data.

d)

to study the blurred boundary between privacy and public space in terms of ethics and social

responsibility implications

Final Thoughts
From the variety of discussion and issues raised in the seminar, it is apparent that there are many
conflicts around business ethics, responsibility and research. This we already knew, but the
discussions highlighted where there are particular organisational challenges and tensions that will be
irresolvable without independent researchers contributing to the solution. Greater transparency and
disclosure about how operations impact on people and the environment, especially in areas where
there are high risks and sensitivities would be an important step for any organisation towards
satisfying stakeholder concerns. But there are many reasons why businesses and other organisations
are slow to implement more responsible and ethical practices - vested interests, archaic and
embedded attitudes, ignorance, fear, incompetence, limited imagination, lack of expertise and
infrastructure, failure to understand the position of others the list is endless. Independent
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research that can help to break down some of these internal barriers, and facilitate meaningful multistakeholder engagement on these sticky issues will be an important future agenda for academics,
practitioners and policymakers.CBiS/ESRC Keyword Policy Seminar Series Team

Professor Marylyn Carrigan (CBiS; Seminar Lead) email: marylyn.carrigan@coventry.ac.uk


Dr Caroline Moraes (CBiS)
Dr Carmela Bosangit (CBiS)
Dr Carlos Ferreira (CBiS)
Lizzie Bos (CBiS)
Jordon Lazell (CBiS)
Dr Nick Henry (CBiS)
Dr Alessandro Meredino (CBiS)
Dr Geraldine Brady (CCSJ)
Dr Geraldine Brown (CCSJ)
Natalie Dukes (CBiS)
Dr Siraj Shaikh
Nicola Boyle (CBiS)
Dr Christina Rowley (ESRC)

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