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Addressing racism during the development process

In this video, Jean Jimbo and Abadesi Osunsade discuss addressing racial biases during the design process.
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<v ->In modern technology in software development</v> there are several stages taken to build software. I will give a generalised overview of these stages. It’s important to keep in mind a few things. 1. it varies from company to company. 2. some stages overlap or are concurrent. 3. there is iteration and repetition through different stages. 4. that several people are involved in each stage and finally, 5. the order may vary. So taking all of these points into consideration the first stage that I’ll talk about is the discovery stage. This is the stage where ideas of what to build or create are initiated and investigated.
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There are several steps in this process and ideas could come from any source within the company or even outside the company or completely new ideas that have never been built before. This stage often involves customers business leaders, sales, product managers, amongst others. A lot of decisions are made around planning around prioritisation, requirements and analysis. Again, it varies and it can be a very long process. I would like to emphasise that many decisions are made at this point. The second stage is the development stage. Now this stage involves the design, building, and testing of technology. It usually results in some parts of a technology product being produced.
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Engineers, developers, designers, testers, and quality assurance, and other technical staff are usually heavily involved at this point. And finally, the last stage is the delivery stage. This is where the product is released and made available to customers or the public, or to other services in some cases. In this stage, the business is able to evaluate if what they’ve built makes sense and can see what the results and outcome of their product is. This is also a very important stage where many of those who have been involved throughout the process are still involved, but it is pretty important for sales as well as the business leaders and product managers to understand what the impact is at this point.
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And it involves the deployment of the product and also maintenance and can last for very many years. As long as the product is still available.
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<v ->The earlier you start, the easier it will be to fix.</v> You know, when I think of the examples I shared earlier, Apple watches, that was found when the work had already been done, there was already a prototype. There was already a piece of hardware that had tens of thousands of hours of, you know, real work put into it from design coding, manufacturing side. So we have to be considering this from day one and that’s really what’s going to save us time, save us costs, minimise risk. So I just think the more you can bake anti-racism into your everyday being, comprehension of the world, how you operate, the easier it’s going to be for you to address it.
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It shouldn’t be something that’s standalone. It shouldn’t be something that’s siloed. It should be something as common as checking your spelling. Before you send something out, you know check your bias, check your privilege. When it comes to the discovery stage of building software, it is important to consider who is involved in this processes. The decisions that are being made around what software needs to be built are made by human beings. And this means that you need to make sure that everyone who’s involved understands what the potential impact could be and takes into consideration anti-racism. One way to mitigate this is to conduct user research that involves users from various backgrounds.
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Another way to mitigate this is to ensure that you’re prioritising anti-racism in your decision-making. Very often the priority is to increase profits and very rarely to take into consideration things like security, wellbeing of users, other important factors that impact the experience of users. When it comes to the development stage it’s very important to consider, What kind of data are you using? Such as using bias algorithms or poor data to make decisions. And the final stage of delivery, it is important to consider your messaging when you’re actually getting the product out there to the world. It is also important to consider what the outcomes actually are.
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Very often product managers and business leaders look at various metrics that measure the performance of their software. At this stage is very important to reflect on how it impacts various racial groups. And this is where you can directly understand what the impact is when it comes to anti-racism. <v ->Trying to be as compassionate and empathetic</v> to the experience of someone from the black or brown community or any other indigenous group, person of colour. Is there anything in the design, the language, that perpetuates white supremacy or suggests an inferiority of someone from another group? These are the kinds of questions that you can ask yourself throughout.
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Is there anything here that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with or as excited about if I came from one of those identity groups? And just building that into your practice. Ideally even having members of those identity groups involved throughout would be really great too.

In this video, Jean and Abadesi provide guidance on steps that can be taken to address racial biases during the technology development process.

Their advice includes:

  • Consider anti-racism from day one of any project, and bake it into all aspects of yourself and your work
  • Conduct inclusive user research
  • Prioritise anti-racism in decision making
  • Consider whether your data is biased
  • Consider whether your design or messaging promotes racist stereotypes
  • Reflect on how technologies can impact different racial groups

What did you think about the advice in this video? What would you prioritise in your own context? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to read and respond to your fellow learners’ comments.

Further resources

  1. Jillian Abel, 2019. How to Overcome Confirmation Bias in Technology Development

  2. Om Suthar. Article: How to be anti-racist in your design process

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Anti-Racist Approaches in Technology

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