Forum économie numérique 2021

Nicolas Zahn • November 2021

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In Geneva this year’s edition of the Forum économie numérique brought together representatives from the public and private sectors as well as experts and researchers to discuss digital responsibility.

The Forum économie numérique is organized by the Department of Economy and Employment and serves as a platform for exchange between the public and private sector as well as other stakeholder groups. This year the conference revolved around the question of digital responsibility strategies. What are the opportunities for SME? And why should one care about digital responsibility in the first place?

Being responsible is good business but not easy

To set the basis for discussions, presentations from various experts shed light on the complex issue of digital responsibility from various perspectives. To get a grasp of what the concept of digital responsibility means and where companies in Switzerland currently stand, Johan Rochel of ethix talked about working conditions of the abstract concept “Digital Ethics” and Anthony Gloor of Fondation Ethos presented preliminary results of an upcoming publication on the Subject. The report takes stock of which companies already engage with digital responsibility and how they do so. The preliminary results not only point at a growing interest and some early movers but also that digital responsibility often starts as a consequence of existing responsibility commitments.

This is also where the Institut du Numérique Responsable wants to support companies in defining and implementing their commitments for digital responsibility. Based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Ivan Mariblanca Flinch shows the environmental impact of IT and that the “Cloud” is not as immaterial as the metaphor might have you believe. Hence, companies have great leverage for their climate impact by focussing on digital responsibility in the sense of recycling, reducing energy use etc. This not only can contribute to saving the climate, it also saves them money through lower energy and maintenance costs. However, just as the digital transformation overall, digital responsibility isn’t easy as Gérald Page from Page & Partners reminded the audience in his presentation on the challenges with outsourcing. What can you effectively delegate without losing too much control and how can ensure digital responsibility when outsourcing IT services?

From theory into practice

The audience afterwards split into several groups with the Swiss Digital Initiative attending the second Atelier on how digital responsibility can help companies reach their sustainability goals. The Institut du Numérique Responsable showed how the procurement, use and handling at the end of the lifetime of digital services (hard- and software) has a direct impact on various of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how digital responsibility from reducing the collected data to designing inclusive digital services can help.

The Hopitaux Universitaires de Genève then presented how they implemented digital responsibility measures across their IT landscape and how it is helping them to be more sustainable. They did so by using a variety of tools and frameworks provided by the Institut du Numérique Responsable and accessible to the public, e.g. the GR491 Framework. The Institute provides tools to measure and indicate where a company stands at the moment in terms of digital responsibility as well as resources to devise a digital responsibility strategy. This should contribute to more and more organisations turning their digital responsibility into practice. There is also a growing number of labels indicating to the end-user e.g. whether a digital asset can be easily repaired or not, introducing some much needed transparency.

Concluding thoughts

However, it became also clear that digital responsibility should not be limited to aspects of sustainability and the environmental impact of digital technologies. With new digital services, ethical questions going far beyond climate impact need to be asked, e.g. when it comes to surveillance and automated decision making. The Swiss Digital Initiative agrees that measuring and making transparent the current state of an organisation is an important step. But it can only be the first step in a long journey. A comprehensive understanding of digital responsibility also needs to address questions of social impact and how the use of digital services could impact individuals. This is why complementary to the efforts described, our Digital Trust Label focuses on the issue of trustworthiness. If you’d like to know more about the project, please visit