Algorithmic Impact Assessments and Accountability: The Co-construction of Impacts
Jacob Metcalf, Emanuel Moss, Elizabeth Anne Watkins, Ranjit Singh, and MadeleineClare Elish. 2021. Algorithmic Impact Assessments and Accountability: TheCo-construction of Impacts. InACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability,and Transparency (FAccT ’21), March 3–10, 2021, Virtual Event, Canada.ACM,
19 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2021
Date Written: September 29, 2020
Algorithmic impact assessments (AIAs) are an emergent form of accountability for entities that build and deploy automated decision-support systems. These are modeled after impact assessments in other domains. Our study of the history of impact assessments shows that "impacts" are an evaluative construct that enable institutions to identify and ameliorate harms experienced because of a policy decision or system. Every domain has different expectations and norms about what constitutes impacts and harms, how potential harms are rendered as the impacts of a particular undertaking, who is responsible for conducting that assessment, and who has the authority to act on the impact assessment to demand changes to that undertaking. By examining proposals for AIAs in relation to other domains, we find that there is a distinct risk of constructing algorithmic impacts as organizationally understandable metrics that are nonetheless inappropriately distant from the harms experienced by people, and which fall short of building the relationships required for effective accountability. To address this challenge of algorithmic accountability, and as impact assessments become a commonplace process for evaluating harms, the FAccT community should A) understand impacts as objects constructed for evaluative purposes, B) attempt to construct impacts as close as possible to actual harms, and C) recognize that accountability governance requires the input of various types of expertise and affected communities. We conclude with lessons for assembling cross-expertise consensus for the co-construction of impacts and to build robust accountability relationships.
Keywords: algorithmic impact assessment, impact, harm, accountability, governance
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