Sustainability and Ethics by Design – Interdisciplinary ASI project

Sustainability assessment and ethical considerations are not commonly included as subtasks in the development of digital systems and services and receive less attention in the design process than business and technical aspects. When developing digital systems/services or platforms for people in resource-constrained environments, it is important to take a wider scope and include more aspects than just the business and technical, and anticipate to unexpected negative effects of the introduction of new technologies. In this study we present a method to assess local concerns in the design of digital services that target poor environments and regions in the world.” [1]


This interdisciplinary student project, supervised by Patricia Lago and Anna Bon, and supported by the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute, aims to bridge the gap between various disciplines, in a real world design science action research. Sophie Vos, a master student Computer Science, worked closely together with Hella Schaefers, who is doing a master in Philosophy (after having completed a bachelor’s in Medicine), to design a method for inclusive and sustainable ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development in low resource environments of the world).

The case study for this research is the seed value chain in rural Mali. Here, recently a market information and trading platform has been developed and deployed by Malian farmer umbrella organization AOPP. However, the web-based and text-oriented platform is not inclusive for farmers who do not read and write, or who do not speak French or have an internet connection.

Field research in January 2020 has revealed that this is still the case for majority of smallholder farmers in the regions (Segou, Sikasso, Koulokiro are regions in Mali). Voice-based  mobile access is an important requirements, as shown by the decision map, designed and adapted for this case study by Sophie. Embedded ethics through deliberation and dialogue are part of the approach, as proposed by Hella. (See also the slides of the pitch)

With the overall sustainability & ethics framework proposed by this research team, a new small step has been set, in making ICT4D more sustainable and reflective by design, including ethical considerations in all stages of the design process.

To be continued…