UTDesignLabBlogEthical reflection: Learning by doing

Ethical reflection: Learning by doing Part of Mapping Overijssel

At DesignLab, many of our projects touch upon different societal layers. Not just citizens or public professionals are involved, but sometimes also the world around us and all its rich flora and fauna. As such, these projects need to be handled with great care.

In one of these projects, which was part of the Mapping Overijssel series of sprints, we also came across the ethical dilemma surrounding the use of big data. Since the inclusion of data ethics in wildlife-based projects is a relatively new topic, we came to the conclusion that something had to be done. More specifically, we came to the conclusion that something had to be done together with all the involved stakeholders. Thus, the idea of a workshop came into existence.

The workshop

The aim of the workshop was to bring a variety of stakeholders to the table and uncover ethical dilemmas or questions surrounding the use of big data across all four Mapping Overijssel data sprints. The participants of the workshop consisted of a balanced mix of staff members of the province and students to bring in as many perspectives as possible. To properly prepare all of the participants, the workshop was divided over two sessions: a kick-off session and the actual workshop.

The kick-off session was meant to properly prepare the participants for the workshop session and also to get to know each other and each other’s experiences a bit. The actual workshop was held online via a video call conference. Furthermore, the Mural platform, an online tool that was used to collaborate visually. 

The workshop concluded with a set of action options – actions which address specific ethical questions or controversies and their underlying values. As an experiment, the experience was meant to give us some practice in having an ethical discussion as well as provide insights into how we might integrate ethics in future work at DesignLab and the province; an implementation which could more closely tie in with the Guidance Ethics Approach.


For many of the participants, thinking about their impact through an ethical lens was a new and ‘refreshing’ experience. Participants felt they learned something new and expressed feeling ‘empowered’ with this new perspective. This may suggest that ethics is indeed not normally given enough attention in high-impact projects. Not only can holding such a discussion aid in the development of a project, but it can also empower teams by helping them be more aware of the impact of their actions.

Participants found the Data Ethics assignment enlightening in that they never thought about the origin of the data source or the validity of it to begin with. “I was just the technical support” remarked one participant. The use of Mural was effective in collecting thoughts on the Data Ethics canvas and also throughout the workshop in providing a visual point of reference to facilitate the discussions.

Would you like to read more about our approach to ethics in the Mapping Overijssel series? The full report is available on request. Please send an email to Tim Bussmann (project leader DesignLab) or Maya van den Berg (program manager DesignLab). You may also contact them if you have any questions!

T. Bussmann MSc (Tim)
Project leader (DesignLab)
dr. M.M. van den Berg (Maya)
Project Manager