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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Which digital dilemmas confront the public service?

By Ken Kernaghan

My June CPA article, entitled Digital Dilemmas: Values, Ethics and Information Technology in Public Organizations, builds on the recently published second edition of the Kernaghan-Langford book on The Responsible Public Servant where the impact of information technology (IT) is a recurring theme. 

Three things to know about values, ethics and information technology:

  1.  Developments in IT can have a major impact on public service values, including privacy, honesty, openness, service, accountability, and responsiveness.

  2. Value conflicts and dilemmas arising from developmentsin digital technologies argue for vigorous measures to alert pracademics to the technologies’ impact.

  3. An analytical framework based on the four-foldclassification of values into democratic, ethical, professional, and people values could provide a manageable framework for examining issues in values, ethics and IT.

Three myths about values, ethics and information technology:

Myth #1: The impact of IT developments, including its values and ethics implications, is adequately covered in textbooks on Canadian public administration.  

The Reality:  The accelerated pace of change in IT and its implications for values and ethics has not been reflected in contemporary textbooks and scholarly writings.

Myth #2:  Any significant impact of robotics on public organizations, including its values and ethics implications, lies far down the road.

The Reality: Robots have become a significant presence in industrialized states and are already raising difficult ethical issues in such policy fields as health care and the military.

Myth #3: Current values statements and ethics codes are sufficient to deal with emerging issues arising from advances in IT.

The Reality: These statements and codes need to be revised to take account of IT issues and to be accompanied by increased attention to ethics leadership and training.

Ken Kernaghan is professor emeritus of public administration at Brock University.

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