Castlebridge has been in existence for 10 years. Our founder, Daragh O Brien, has a long track record in data governance, data quality, and data privacy work and is a strong believer in the importance of pairing (often idealised) academic research and study with (often cynical) front-line practice and experience. This “meeting of minds” helps bring forth better, richer, and deeper insights into the issues, challenges, and opportunities that exist in the Information Management space. 

Speaking from my personal experience, when I started in Castlebridge in 2013, I parlayed my PhD research into Hegel and Oscar Wilde, and my transferrable skills in textual analysis and research, into the study of the then emerging theme of Information Ethics. This led to our paper on Information Ethics in 2016 (responding to the EDPS paper in of that year), the framework from which formed the basis of the PROTECT project submission by the Adapt Centre (which finally got approved late last year), and ultimately formed a key element of the book, Ethical Data and Information Management,  I co-authored with Daragh on Information Ethics that came out last May

It is only by facilitating a meeting of minds between industry, academia, and society that we can properly understand the Ethic of Society, assess the Ethic of the Organisation, and ensure that the business, information, and technology capabilities we are developing continue to deliver acceptable information and process outcomes that benefit individuals and society. 

Why Standards? 

Standards provide an objective benchmark for organisations and people in organisations who are trying to implement change, whether in the context of process management, quality management or ethical information management. 

Standards are not a substitute for ethics, but they create situational modifiers to influence decision making in organisations that can lead to more ethical outcomes. They can represent negotiated consensus on “agreed practice” or “good practice” which provide a floor, a baseline, for management practice, systems design, and information outcomes. 

It is important, therefore, that the development of standards should be approached with the same ‘meeting of minds’ between stakeholders to ensure that there is an appropriate consideration of all perspectives and that we arrive, at a minimum, at an agreed set of methods, principles, and practices for defining initiatives, assessing risks, recognising trade-offs, and governing actions in the management of information to benefit human-kind. 

Lessons Learned 

Standards have developed in areas such as process management, quality management, and risk management. Across these domains there have been common learnings on some fundamental truths of good management practice: 
  • Documentation and definition of terminology
  • Definition of roles, responsibilities, and accountability 
  • Continuous improvement ethos 
  • Standardisation of approaches. 

However, we have also learned that the slavish following of the “form” of a thing does not necessarily deliver the “function” of the thing. We saw this with the failed adoption of quality management in the first wave of quality management imported from the East back to the West. This is why W.Edwards Deming called on management to “adopt the new philosophy” and Joseph Juran warned of the “lip service risk”. 

Indeed, in our book, Daragh and I have a chapter which maps the strong parallels between the current “Ethics buzz” and the famous speech by Juran where he set out his famous quality trilogy. 

The Standards Risk 

And this is the risk with standards. Unless there is focus on the essential essence of ethics in organisations, we risk standards becoming a “quick fix”, where “we’re ISO xyz certified” becomes an “instant pudding” alternative to the fundamental changes required in governance of data and of business operations to ensure sustainably ethical business models, ethical information strategies, and ethical execution of information management practices to deliver information and process outcomes that meet the expectations of society. It is quite possible to do entirely the wrong things in a well defined and governed manner, which is why it’s important to understand the philosophical and cultural aspects of information ethics just as much as the technical. 

As Deming said, “there’s no such thing as Instant Pudding”. But standards can provide us with a recipe book. The qualitative differentiator will be in the execution of the dish by organisations and implementers. 

And this is why Castlebridge are proud supporters of the Elite-S programme, and the Adapt Centre