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    Ethics of sts research

  • Right of Free and Informed Consent : This is the right of participants in a research project to know the harms and benefits of the research. It also includes the right not to be forced to participate in a project but, instead, offer or withdraw voluntarily their consent to participate. When preparing a STS analysis, it is mandatory to take active measures to facilitate participants's free and informed consent.
  • Any STS analysis must take active measures to recognize potential harms and minimize or eliminate them. This is especially the case regarding the information that may be collected about different individuals. Special provisions must be taken to maintain confidentiality in collecting, storing, and using sensitive information. This includes careful disposal of information after it is no longer needed.

Participatory observation

  • As we said above, a socio-technical system (STS) is “an intellectual tool to help us recognize patterns in the way technology is used and produced.” Constructing these tools requires combining modes of analysis that are ordinarily kept separate. Because STSs embed values, they are normative. These values can help to chart out trajectories of change and development because they outline values that the system needs to realize, maintain, or even enhance. In this way, the study of STSs is normative and a legitimate inquiry for practical and professional ethics. On the other hand, STS analysis requires finding out what is already there and describing it. So STS analysis is descriptive as well. In this textbox, we will talk briefly about the descriptive or empirical components of STS analysis. This material is taken from the draft manuscript of Good Computing: A Virtue Approach to Computer Ethics and has been developed by Chuck Huff.
  • Interviews : Semi-Structured and Structured Interviews conducted with those familiar with a given STS provide an excellent source of information on the constituents of a given STS and how these fit together into an interrelated whole. For example, the STS grid on power systems was put together by experts in this area who were able to provide detailed information on power rates and protocols, software used to distribute energy through the gridlines, and different sources (representing both hard and soft technologies) of power generation.
  • Field Observation : Those constructing a STS analysis go directly to the system and describe it in its day-to-day operation. Two books provide more information on the types and techniques of field observation: 1. David M. Fetterman, Ethnography: 2nd Edition, Applied Social Research Methods Series, Vol 17. London, UK.: Sage Publishers, 1998 and 2. James P. Spradley, Participant Observation. New York, Harcourt, 1980. The data collected in this method can also be used to construct day-in-the-life scenarios that describe how a given technology functions on a typical day. These scenarios are useful for uncovering value conflicts and latent accidents. See James T. Reason, Human Error, Cambridge, UK.: Cambridge University Press, 1990 for information on latent accidents, how they are detected, and how they are prevented.
  • Questionnaires : Questionnaires are useful for gathering general information from large numbers of people about a STS. Constructing good questionnaires is a difficult process that requires patience as well as trial and error. (Trying out questions on classmates and friends is the best way to identify unclear or misleading questions.) Avoiding complex, overly leading, and loaded questions represent a few of the challenges facing those who would construct useful questionnaires.
  • Archival and physical trace methods : Looking at user manuals provides insight into how a system has been designed and how it works. Studying which keys are worn down on computer keyboards provides information on the kind of work being done. Comparing how a system is intended to work with how it is in fact being used is also illuminating, especially when one is interested in tracing the trajectory of a STS. Working with archival and physical trace methods requires critical thought and detective work.
  • None of the above methods, taken in isolation, provides complete information on a STS. Triangulation represents the best way to verify data and to reconcile conflicting data. Here we generate evidence and data from a variety of sources then compare and collate. Claims made by interviewees that match direct on-site observations confirm one another and indicate data strength and veracity. Evidence collected through questionnaires that conflicts with evidence gathered through archival research highlights the need for detective work that involves further observation, comparison, interpretation, and criticism.
  • Developing STS analyses bears a striking resemblance to requirements analysis. In both cases, data is collected, refined, and put together to provide an analysis. A key to success in both is the proper combination of normative and descriptive procedures.

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Source:  OpenStax, Corporate governance. OpenStax CNX. Aug 20, 2007 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col10396/1.10
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