Social Impact Statements: Engaging Public Participation in Information Technology Design

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"The real question before us lies here: do these instruments further life and enhance its values, or not? - Mumford (1934) p. 318 Computers have become an integral part of our everyday lives. Banks, airlines, motor vehicle administrations, police departments, Social Security, and the Internal Revenue Service all depend on computers. From their introduction, people have questioned the impact computers will have on society. We believe it is our responsibility as system designers to achieve organizational goals while serving human needs and protecting individual rights. The proposed Social Impact Statements (Shneiderman, 1990) woul d identify the impacts of information systems on direct and indirect users, who may be employees or the public. This paper proposes a framework for implementing Social Impact Statements for federal and local government agencies and regulated industries, with optional participation by the other privately held corporations. A Social Impact Statement should describe the new system and its benefits, acknowledge concerns and potential barriers, outline the development process, and address fundamental principl es. Examples from our work with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice are offered. Also cross-referenced as CAR-TR-796