How to design digital ethical principles for your charity

We’ve gathered together some of the best digital ethics codes to guide charities’ in building their own ethical frameworks.

Chloe Green | 15th Aug 19
signpost with 'right' and 'wrong' on it representing digital ethical principles

Just as digital presents enormous opportunities for charities, it comes with its own unique challenges. As decision making, communication and operations all become increasingly tied with digital technology, it’s vital for charities to ensure they’re using these tools responsibly and that they are upholding their charity’s core values whether in the offline or online worlds.

There are plenty of potential pitfalls for the unaware. Just as in the analogue world, charities need to ensure they always make the right decisions when it comes to using and storing peoples’ data, publishing information online and using technology to deliver services.

> See also: What are digital ethics and why should charities care?

Regulations such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) are important in ensuring organisations are conforming to certain behaviours. But charities dealing in the digital world would benefit from having their own set of simple guiding principles or digital code of conduct in place.

This code can be high level, or actionable and practical, it can be for specific teams or processes or an organisation as a whole – the important thing is that everyone involved understands and believes in their importance as a morally responsible organisation. Rather than a regulation, which is a specific enforced set of rules, a code of digital conduct ensures that everyone in an organisation carries that ethos in everything they do, because it’s right.

This set of ideals should cover all the areas charities should be thinking about, such as managing the risk of harm to service users, ensuring everyone is included and that digital services are accessible to them, and making data-driven decisions fairly and transparently.

There are lots of ethical principles, pledges, codes and frameworks out there for responsible tech use, some charity-specific and some not. Charities can use a ready-made code or pick the elements most relevant to them. As AMRC told us, charites don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but can build on guidance already in place.


The Charity Digital Code of Practice  

The Code has been drawn up by charities, for charities, to improve the sustainability, impact, and efficiency of charities across the UK. This is a good place to start for any charity looking to define rules for conduct in the digital world, with a clearly explained section on managing risks to users and ethical considerations around inclusion, accessibility and transparency.


NCVO – charity ethical principles

While not digital-specific, the NCVO’s ethical principles cement the foundational principles on which digital principles should be based, such as integrity, openness and the right to safety.


Principles for digital development

These nine ‘living’ guidelines are designed to help those in international aid and international development organisations to ethically out their digitally-enabled work.


AMRC – Digital health principles

Similarly for healthcare organisations, AMRC (Association of Medical Research Charities) has set out its own set of principles for navigating the digital health ethics landscape, including questions that organisations should ask their digital partners.


Moral principles for digital transformation

Consultancy UK’s moral principles for digital transformation are not charity specific, but set out some solid guidelines for any organisation undergoing digital projects, with some technical consideration explained in easy to understand terms. The emphasis on trust is particularly relevant for the charity sector.


Data Ethics Framework

Presented in 2018 as a collective standard for public services, the Government’s Data Ethics Framework explains some of the principles behind data ethics in a clear and concise way – essential for any charity handling data.