Ethics on the Ground

What is it?

“Ethics on the Ground: From Principles to Practice” was a CRAFT Workshop that took place at the ACM:FAT* 2020 conference in Barcelona on January 29 & 30 2020, to explore how FAT and other ethical principles play out in practice.

Surveys of public attitudes show that people believe it is possible to design ethical AI. However, the everyday professional development context can offer minimal space for ethical reflection or oversight, creating a significant gap between public expectations and the performance of ethics in practice.

This 2-part workshop involved an offsite visit to Telefónica Innovation Alpha and used storytelling and theatre methods to examine how and where ethical reflection happens on the ground and to explore the gaps in expectations and identify alternative approaches to more effective ethical performance.

Bringing social scientists, data scientists, designers, civic rights activists and ethics consultants together to focus on AI/ML in the health context, it fostered some critical and creative activities to bring to the surface the structural, disciplinary, social and epistemological challenges to effective ethical performance in practice. Participants  explored and enacted where, when and how meaningful interventions can happen.

Read more on the research informing our approach here…

When & Where is it?

Part I: Wednesday January 29: 15.00 – 18.30: Torre Telefónica Diagonal 00 
Part II: Thursday January 30: 15.00 – 16.30: Room MR7, Barceló Sants Hotel

Who is involved?

This workshop is a collaboration between academic and industry researchers and includes speakers with diverse backgrounds and experience.


– Dr Marguerite Barry – School of Information & Communication Studies, University College Dublin Ireland
– Dr Aphra Kerr – Department of Sociology, Maynooth University, Ireland
– Oliver Smith – Strategy Director, Alpha Health Moonshot, Telefónica, Barcelona
– Mohammed Khwaja – PhD candidate, Imperial College London & Alpha Health Moonshot, Telefónica, Barcelona


Dr. Marguerite Barry, School of Information & Communication Studies, University College Dublin
“Design performance: Ethical design for mHealth with vulnerable users”

Dr Gemma Galdon Clavell, Director, Eticas Consulting, Barcelona
“Civic society performance: Innovation, deployment and societal impact”

Dr. Aphra Kerr, Department of Sociology, Maynooth University
“Policy performance: Managing expectations among different publics”

Prof. John Kelleher, ADAPT Global Centre of Excellence, Dublin
“Development performance: Explainable FAT for AI/ML R&D in practice”

Prof. Kalpana Shankar, School of Information & Communication Studies, University College Dublin “Multidisciplinary performance: Locating FAT in higher education”

Oliver Smith, Strategy Director, Alpha Health Moonshot, Telefónica, Barcelona
“Corporate performance: effective ethical frameworks for large scale and long-term innovation and product development”

The Plan:

This workshop is structured in two parts across two days with part one taking place at Telefónica Alpha, their moonshot research facility.  In order to facilitate speedy security and access procedures, we would recommend that participants arrive at 2.30pm where tea/coffee will be served before the session commences at 3pm.

Part I: Confronting Ethics on the Ground (3 hrs) – Wednesday January 29th 3 – 6pm

  1. Introduction – we describe what happens at Telefónica, what mean by ‘ethics on the ground’ and what will happen in the workshop
  2. Speaker stories – our speakers share personal reflections on events and experiences in their professional lives that relate to FAT but reveal the more complicated human aspects that can arise in the practice and performance of ethics
  3. Group activities – participants form groups and engage in a set of activities devised to help us confront and enact ethics on the ground, to include:
    a) Warm up: reflective activity on sharing and communicating dilemmas
    b) Theatre of Action: Scenario rehearsal and improvisation – participants will rehearse a scenario involving FAT and other ethical dilemmas and are challenged to complete the piece of theatre by improvising on what their character would do…
    (inspired by Magic If and Forum Theatre techniques from the Stanislavski system (Gillett, 2014) and Theatre of Action (Boal, 2004).
    c) Art of Experience: Participant ‘actors’ reflect on different actions and outcomes depending on different characters and their personal experiences, inspired by Art of Experience (Gillett, 2014). Participants will also reflect on the potential role of movement and body language (beyond thought and text) in performing ethics in practice, inspired by Laban’s 8 efforts (Espeland, 2014)
  4. Discussion & reflection
  5. Preparation for Part II

**Interlude – Ethics on the 12th Floor** 6pm Wednesday January 29th.

On the conclusion of part one, participants are cordially invited for drinks and nibbles in Alpha’s space on the 12th floor of Torre Telefónica. Meet some of Alpha’s AI and Research teams, see some brief presentations on work happening there and, most importantly, relax and chat after the session.

Part II – Performing Ethics on the Ground (1.5 hrs) – Thursday January 30th, 3 – 4.30pm

After a good rest and some stimulating morning plenaries and conversations, part two of our CRAFT session continues at the ACM:FAT* Conference location, Barceló Sants Hotel (Room MR7) as follows:

  1. A brief introduction and recap on the previous days activities by our facilitators and speakers
  2. Performance of selected role-plays by volunteer participant/actors (with audience participation encouraged!)
  3. A final plenary reflection on the ideas emerging and the generation of a set of concepts relating to ethical performance that can both critique and complement FAT in the abstract.
  4. Future plans and what comes next

Read more about our Workshop theory & techniques here…

How can you participate?

If you are interested in multi-disciplinary methods and alternative approaches to discussing ethics in the design and use of AI systems, then join us at the workshop during the ACM FAT* conference in Barcelona on January 29 (note: this workshop will be limited to 40 participants).

**UPDATE January 28, 2020**
A number of extra spaces have become available for this workshop. If you are interested please contact us in order to arrange access in advance. Please note that as part of this workshop is offsite, it is essential to bring your ID in order to gain access.

Email us at – ethicsontheground[at]gmail[dot]com

More details can be found at the FAT* 2020 website

Contact us

For further information on this CRAFT session please email us at