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A History of Social Impact Analysis

The Social Impact Statement is the main written work that students must complete when carrying out a Social Impact Analysis exercise for a "real-world" client.

The idea for the Social Impact Statement originated with Ben Shneiderman's 1990 address [33] to the Computers and Society special interest group of the Association for Computing Machinery. Shneiderman proposed a model based on the environmental impact statement that would enable software designers to investigate the social impact of the systems they designed in time to incorporate changes in those systems as they are built.

Over the next few years, this idea became the basis for a teaching tool in systems design courses and social and ethical issues in computing courses.[18], [34]

Students Need to See Issues in Real World Problems

The idea for including a Social Impact Analysis exercise in a class on social and ethical issues in computing came from a desire to have students see these issues as real problems that they will have to face in their careers.

With some guidance from the instructor, students will have a chance to locate these problems within the complexity of the technical issues of the system. SIA provides students with the skills of locating these issues and thinking carefully about their ethical import [22], [18].

Three Basic Tools for Investigating

Students are trained in three basic tools to use in investigating the social context within which a system is used:

  • Interviewing
  • Field Observation
  • Day in the Life Scenarios

Students are also guided by the instructor in identifying the stakeholders and ethical issues that are relevant for their particular implementation. In doing this, they use the framework from ImpactCS as a prompt in analyzing the ethical issues relevant at various social levels in the implementation.

Students Prepare a Professional Level Report for Clients

Students search the literature based on the situation (e.g. medical systems, computer supported cooperative work, computer-aided manufacturing, etc.) and on the ethical issues they have identified as relevant. Students prepare a report for their client that includes:

  • an executive summary
  • a description of the system (physical, logical, procedural, and social)
  • an analysis of the ethical issues (stakeholders, principles, risks, etc.)
  • recommendations for actions, with analysis of the possible outcomes
  • a reader's guide to literature that will help the clients understand the issues in more depth
  • an appendix that describes the methods they used to collect their data and prepare their analysis.

This list covers almost all of the curriculum knowledge units in the ImpactCS recommended curriculum. It does not mention the experience students receive in thinking about the technical design of the computing systems they encounter, or the overlapping benefits this experience will have in helping them to understand issues in Computer-Human Interaction or Systems Design.

By the time students have finished this process they have:

  • made a report both to the class and to the client
  • gained skills in acting in a professional manner toward real clients
  • learned to identify and analyze ethical issues
  • designed and negotiated alternative courses of action
  • gained an understanding of the social context in which a computer system is used
  • communicated their understanding of these issues both orally and in writing.

This page has been translated into Serbo-Croatian by Jovana Milutinovich at the site webhosting and into French by Kate Bondareva at the site