Information Systems Frontiers

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 383–397 | Cite as

Tomorrow’s ethics and today’s response: An investigation into the ways information systems professionals perceive and address emerging ethical issues

  • Kutoma J. Wakunuma
  • Bernd Carsten Stahl


This paper explores the question of how foresight and futures research can identify and address ethical issues in the field of Information Systems (IS). Starting from the premise that such IS are part of socio-technical systems, the interaction between technology and human actors raise ethical concerns. Early recognition of these concerns can address ethical issues and improve the use of the technology for a range of social and organisational goals. This paper discusses research conducted in two futures research projects. Both projects investigated emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) and ethics. The first project established approaches for identifying future technologies and their related ethical concerns. This led to the identification of 11 emerging ICTs and their associated ethical concerns. The second project took these general ethical concerns and focused on their role in IS. Specifically, how IS professionals view future emerging technologies, their associated ethical concerns, and how they think these concerns could be addressed. The key findings are that IS professionals are primarily interested in the job at hand and less so in the ethical concerns that the job might bring; ethics is a concern that is best left for others to deal with. This paper considers the implications of research on ethics in emerging ICTs and draws general conclusions about the relevance of future technologies research in IS.


Emerging technologies Ethical issues IS professionals 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreements n° 230318 (ETICA). The paper provides a starting point of the question for why and how responsible research innovation (RRI) is to be implemented in privately funded research that is investigated in detail in the Responsible-Industry project, grant agreement no 609817.

The IDEGOV project was funded by the CIGREF foundation.

This research benefited from the activities undertaken in the project “Framework for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT,” EPSRC reference EP/J000019/1.

The ETICA project was the starting point of the paper. The IDEGOV project was undertaken in collaboration with the University of Namur. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Philippe Goujon and Laurence Mascalet to the project.

We would also like to acknowledge Sara Wilford who was instrumental in the IDEGOV project.

The paper has benefited much from discussions with colleagues in the Framework for Responsible Research & Innovation in ICT (FRRIICT) project, which have shaped the thinking with regards to RRI. Thanks are due to Marina Jirotka, Grace Eden, Catherine Flick and Job Timmermans.

The authors would like to thank the members of the consortia for these projects.

Finally, we would like to thank Sarah Lee for her invaluable support in bringing this manuscript to a publishable state.


  1. Baskerville, R. L., & Myers, M. D. (2002). Information systems as a reference discipline. MIS Quarterly, 26(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beier, K. P. (1999). Virtual reality: a short introduction. Virtual reality laboratory. University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  3. Bell, W. (2003). Foundations of futures studies (Vol. 1). New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  4. Benbasat, I., & Zmud, R. W. (2003). The identity crisis within the IS discipline: defining and communicating the discipline’s core properties. MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 183–194.Google Scholar
  5. Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  6. Cadili, S., & Whitley, E. A. (2005). On the interpretative flexibility of hosted ERP systems. Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 14(2), 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collingridge, D. (1980). The social control of technology. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cuhls, K. (2003). From forecasting to foresight processes-new participative foresight activities in Germany. Journal of Forecasting, 22(2–3), 93–111. doi: 10.1002/for.848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Culnan, M., & Williams, C. (2009). How ethics can enhance organizational privacy: lessons from the ChoicePoint and TJX Data Breaches. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 33(4), 673–687.Google Scholar
  10. D’Arcy, J., & Devaraj, S. (2012). Employee misuse of information technology resources: testing a contemporary deterrence model. Decision Sciences, a Journal of the Decision Science Institute, 43(No. 6), 1091–1124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dikaiakos, M. D., Katsaros, D., Mehra, P., Pallis, G., & Vakali, A. (2009). Cloud computing: distributed internet computing for IT and scientific research. IEEE Internet Computing, 13(5), 10–13.Google Scholar
  12. European Commission (2013). Options for Strengthening Responsible Research and Innovation (Report of the Expert Group on the State of Art in Europe on Responsible Research and Innovation). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from
  13. Farah, M. J., Illes, J., CookDeegan, R., Gardner, H., Kandel, E., King, P., et al. (2004). Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(5), 421–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gray, P., & Hovav, A. Z. (1999). Using scenarios to understand the frontiers of IS. Information Systems Frontiers, 1(1), 15–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gray, P., & Hovav, A. Z. (2007). The IS organisation of the future: four scenarios for 2020. Information Systems Management, 24, 113–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gray, P., & Hovav, A. (2011). Methods for studying the information systems future. In M. Chiasson, O. Henfridsson, H. Karsten, & J. DeGross (Eds.), Researching the future in information systems (pp. 299–316). Heidelberg: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heersmink, R., van den Hoven, J., van Eck, N., & van den Berg, J. (2011). Bibliometric mapping of computer and information ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 13(3), 241–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hirschheim, R., & Klein, H. (2012). A Glorious and not-so-short history of the information systems field. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13(4). Retrieved from
  19. Kashyap, R., Mir, R., & Mir, A. (2004). Corporate social responsibility: a call for multidisciplinary inquiry. Journal of Business & Economics Research, 2(7), 51–58.Google Scholar
  20. Katzan, H. (2010) On the privacy of cloud computing. International Journal of Management and Information Systems; Second Quarter 2010; 14, 2.Google Scholar
  21. Leonardi, P. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 35(1), 147–167.Google Scholar
  22. Light, B., & McGrath, K. (2010). Ethics and social networking sites: a disclosive analysis of facebook. Information Technology & People, 23(4), 290–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lyon, D. (2005). Surveillance as social sorting: Privacy, risk and automated discrimination. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Mali, F., Pustovrh, T., Groboljsek, B., & Coenen, C. (2012). National ethics advisory bodies in the emerging landscape of responsible research and innovation. NanoEthics, 1–18.Google Scholar
  25. Martin, B. R. (2010). The origins of the concept of “foresight” in science and technology: an insider’s perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77(9), 1438–1447. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2010.06.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martinsons, M., & Ma, D. (2009). Sub-cultural differences in information ethics across china: focus on Chinese management generation gaps. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(11), 816–833.Google Scholar
  27. Martinsons, M., Ou, C., Murata, K., Drummond, D., Li, Y., Lo, H., et al. (2009). The ethics of IT professionals in Japan and China. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(11), 834–859.Google Scholar
  28. Mingers, J., & Walsham, G. (2010). Towards ethical information systems: the contribution of discourse ethics. MIS Quarterly, 34(4), 833–854.Google Scholar
  29. Moor, J. H. (2006). Why we need better ethics for emerging technologies. Ethics and Information Technology, 7, 111–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Moores, T. T., & Chang, J. C. (2006). Ethical decision making in software piracy: initial development and test of a four-component model. Mis Quarterly, 30(1), 167–180.Google Scholar
  31. Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: exploring technology at work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435–1448. doi: 10.1177/0170840607081138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Owen, R., Heintz, M., & Bessant, J. (Eds.). (2013). Responsible innovation. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. Paul, R. J. (2011). Quality changes. European Journal of Information Systems, 20(6), 625–628. doi: 10.1057/ejis.2011.38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Raspin, P., & Terjesen, S. (2007). Strategy making: what have we learned about forecasting the future? Business Strategy Series, 8(2), 116–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rogerson, S. (2011). Ethics and ICT. In R. D. Galliers & W. Currie (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of management information systems: Critical perspectives and new directions (pp. 601–622). Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  36. Sardar, Z. (2010). The Namesake: futures; futures studies; futurology; futuristic; foresight—What’s in a name? Futures, 42(3), 177–184. doi: 10.1016/j.futures.2009.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sarker, S., Fuller, M., & Chatterjee, S. (2009). Ethical information systems development: a Baumanian postmodernist perspective. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(11), 787–815.Google Scholar
  38. Stahl, B. C. (2011a). What future, which technology? On the problem of describing relevant futures. In M. Chiasson, O. Henfridsson, H. Karsten, & J. I. DeGross (Eds.), Researching the Future in Information Systems: IFIP WG 8.2 Working Conference, Future IS 2011, Turku, Finland, June 6–8, 2011, Proceedings (1st ed., pp. 95–108). Heidelberg: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stahl, B. C. (2011b). “IT for a better future: How to integrate ethics, politics and innovation” In: Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society (9:3), Special Issue on Emerging Technology and Ethics, edited by Kutoma Wakunuma, 140–156.Google Scholar
  40. Stahl, B. C. (2012a). Responsible research and innovation in information systems. European Journal of Information Systems, 21(3), 207–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stahl, B. C. (2012b). Morality, ethics and reflection: a categorisation of normative research in IS research. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13(8), 636–656.Google Scholar
  42. Stahl, B. C. & Flick, C. (2011). “ETICA Workshop on Computer Ethics: Exploring Normative Issues” In S. Fischer-Hübner, P. Duquenoy, M. Hansen, R. Leenes, & G. Zhang (Eds.), Privacy and Identity Management for Life: 6th IFIP WG 9.2, 9.6/11.7, 11.4, 11.6/PrimeLife International Summer School, Helsingborg, Sweden, August … in Information and Communication Technology). Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Stahl, B. C., Rogerson, S. & Wakunuma, K. (2009). Landscapes of ethical issues of emerging ICT applications in Europe In: Proceedings of the Society for Philosophy and Technology 2009 Conference (SPT) 08 to 10 July 2009, Delft, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  44. Stahl, B. C., Heersmink, R., Goujon, P., Flick, C., van den Hoven, J., Wakunuma, K., et al. (2010). Identifying the ethics of emerging information and communication technologies: an essay on issues, concepts and method. International Journal of Technoethics, 1(4), 20–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. van der Heijden, K. (1996). Scenarios. The Art of strategic conversation. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Venable, J. R., Preis-Heje, J., Bunker, D., & Russo, N. L. (2011). Design and diffusion of systems for human benefit: towards more humanistic realization of information systems in society. Information Technology & People, 24(3), 208–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Von Schomberg, R. (2011). Prospects for technology assessment in a framework of responsible research and innovation. In: Technikfolgen abschätzen lehren: Bildungspotenziale transdisziplinärer Methode, P.39-61, Wiesbaden: Springer VSGoogle Scholar
  48. Walsham, G. (2012). Are we making a better world with ICTs? Reflections on a future agenda for the IS field. Journal of Information Technology, 27(2), 87–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wang, C. C. (2004). The influence of ethical and self-interest concerns on knowledge sharing intentions among managers: an empirical study. International Journal of Management, 21(3), 370–381.Google Scholar
  50. Wiener, N. (1956). The human use of human beings. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  51. Zissis, D., & Lekkas, D. (2012). Addressing cloud computing security issues. Future Generation Computer Systems, 28(3), 583–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.De Montfort UniversityThe GatewayLeicesterUK

Personalised recommendations