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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Identifying Project Risks

Rafael Guerrero

When project stakeholders have been identified, the direct and indirect effects experienced by these stakeholders must also be understood and addressed by your senior design team.

What is a project risk?

A project risk is any potential harm or undesired outcome that comes from implementing a design decision. Risk is behind every project that your team will pursue, as no project is free of stakeholders who will experience benefits or harms from your project, both directly and indirectly. While you may not be able to make your design project a risk-free undertaking, flagging inherent project risks is an important part of ethical analysis that helps your team understand what needs to be considered before making design decisions. Determining what potential risks come with your design solution and identifying the stakeholders who would possibly be impacted by these risks directly assists your team in improving the safety and robustness of your design.

Some questions that can help you identify project risks are:

  • Personal safety:
    • What parts or subsystems in your design experience extensive motion, load fluctuations, heat transfer, turbulence, or mechanical vibration that could produce safety hazards for users?
    • What parts or subsystems in your design require dangerous voltage/current levels and/or carry significant risk of electrocution for users?
    • Does your design support human weight? How many people? What activities are to happen in your design structure, and how could these activities pose a risk to structural integrity?
    • Will your design present any potential violations of building/structural safety codes?
  • Identity security:
    • Does your project require the collection and storage of customer personal, financial, or professional information? Is there the possibility for private information to be stolen from your team?
    • Can the information collected by your solution to help others potentially be used to put your stakeholders in physical danger? How can this information be kept safe from the person or persons that can harm your stakeholders? (e.g, victims of domestic violence, human trafficking; company whistleblowers; anonymous tippers to law enforcement).
    • Does your project require location based services? What are the safeguards that keep this information from being compromised in your solution?
  • Environmental impact:
    • Will your design solution require the use of non-renewable materials, or non-biodegradable materials?
    • Does any aspect of your design introduce non-native invasive species or materials into a community?
  • Legal concerns:
    • Are there any existing products or processes protected by patent law that could potentially conflict with your team’s design?
    • Would the implementation of your design solution compromise access to legal rights or resources for any specific individual/group?
  • Illness/biohazards:
    • Is there a potential risk of your design solution contributing to the spread of illnesses?
    • Does your design require the use or production of biohazardous materials? How are these materials going to be stored, transported, and disposed of?
  • Communal/national security:
    • Is it possible for your design solution to be turned into a weapon? If so, what are ways to design against this?
    • Is it possible for your design solution to be used to facilitate criminal activity (e.g., identity theft, stalking, shoplifting)? If so, what are ways to design against this?
Jun 29, 2018