Tools  |    |  April 17, 2020

ECCOLA – a Method for Implementing Ethically Aligned AI Systems

Tool and Conference paper by Ville Vakkuri, Kai-Kristian Kemell, Pekka Abrahamsson.
Presented at Euromicro DSD/SEAA 2020 Conference.


Various recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) system failures, some of which have made the global headlines, have highlighted issues in these systems. These failures have resulted in calls for more ethical AI systems that better take into account their effects on various stakeholders. However, implementing AI ethics into practice is still an on-going challenge. High-level guidelines for doing so exist, devised by governments and private organizations alike, but lack practicality for developers. To address this issue, in this paper, we present a method for implementing AI ethics. The method, ECCOLA, has been iteratively developed using a cyclical action design research approach. The method makes the high-level AI ethics principles more practical, making it possible for developers to more easily implement them in practice.


This approach was based on the Essence Theory of Software Engineering, which was used to describe the first versions of the method. Methods described using the Essence language are utilized through cards. However, using cards in the context of software engineering methods is not a novel idea, nor one proposed by Essence, e..g., Planning Poker in Agile uses cards and the idea of Kanban is founded around using cards in the form of sticky notes.

There are 21 cards in total in ECCOLA. These cards are split into 8 themes, with each theme consisting of 1 to 6 cards. These themes are AI ethics ones found in various ethical guidelines, such as transparency or data. Each individual card deals with a more atomic aspect of that theme, such as, in the case of data, data privacy and data quality. Aside from the main set of cards, ECCOLA also features an A5-sized game sheet that describes how the method is used.

Each card in ECCOLA is split into three parts: (1) motivation (i.e. why this is important), (2) what to do (to tackle this issue), and (3) a practical example of the topic (to make the issues more tangible). Each card also comes with a note-making space. As the cards are generally utilized as physical cards, the card is split into two with the left half of each card containing the textual contents and the right half containing white space for making notes. This note-making space has been included to make using the cards more convenient in practice.