As more enterprise firms and their customers start to question the use of data in analytics, research and artificial intelligence tools, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) is offering an 18-point set of guidelines to ensure ethics in quantitative decision-making.
Based in Catonsville, Md., INFORMS was established in 1995 following a merger between the Operations Research Society of America and The Institute of Management Sciences. Its ethics guidelines, which are available as a foldable printout, are grouped into three broad categories where operations research and analytics are likely to have the greatest impact. These include society, business organizations themselves and those working directly in professional roles involving quantitative decision-making.
“We aspire to be . . . Questioning of whether there are more effective and efficient ways to reach a goal,” one of the guidelines says, for example, as well as “realistic in our claims of achievable results, and in acknowledging when the best course of action may be to terminate a project.” Those working in analytics and operations research also need to be “forthcoming about our assumptions, interests, sponsors, motivations, limitations, and potential conflicts of interest,” the guidelines add.
According to Scott Nestler, associate teaching professor in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Name and an INFORMS member, an initial set of ethics guidelines was initially created in 2012 when the association was developing a certification program. While those guidelines had punitive measures for those who failed to follow them, the new guidelines are intended to be more broadly adopted than those who achieve a particular certification, Nestler explained. They also have a markedly different tone.
“The decision was to have something more aspirational,” Nestler told B2B News Network. “Rather than merely saying, ‘Don’t do this,’ we wanted to develop something that suggested to the profession, ‘These the are the types of things we should strive to do.”
The need for ethical guidelines in the wake of technological innovation isn’t a new phenomenon, Nestler pointed out. Even as classical computing began to have an impact on mainstream business and society in the late 1970s, for example, groups like the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) began looking at whether coding might be applied in ways that violate the public good. The rise of analytics, however, is dovetailing with questions around bias in AI and “fake news” in the media. As a result, INFORMS looked broadly for sources to help shape its guidelines, including those that apply to journalism, Nestler said.
Of course, getting organizations to adhere to ethics guidelines can be difficult, but Nestler noted that those published by INFORM are deliberately as simple as a checklist, often running no more than a sentence long. That should allow enterprises to adapt them to their company vision and mission statements, or even within a particular team. Ideally, INFORMS hopes that the guidelines will serve as an important reminder about the source material for any analytics project.
“We don’t always think about the ethical implications and the fact that much of the data we’re analyzing is about people,” he said. “There’s a human element that is sort of obfuscated by looking at text and numbers in rows and columns. We need to stop and think about the people who are represented by that data.”