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Plan a Consequence Scanning Workshop

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain why Consequence Scanning is important to accountability in design.
  • Describe the Consequence Scanning workshop structure.
  • Identify best practices for planning a Consequence Scanning workshop.

Consequence Scanning and Accountability

Teams can use the process of Consequence Scanning to build the consistent habit of examining the impacts of their work on communities and greater society. During the Consequence Scanning workshop, teams ask themselves three key questions.

  • What are the intended and unintended consequences of this product or service feature?
  • Within these intended and unintended consequences, which are positive?
  • Within these intended and unintended consequences, which are ones we need to mitigate?

Teams use a four-quadrant matrix to categorize and track these consequences, using two quadrants to capture positive intended and unintended consequences, and two quadrants to capture intended and unintended consequences to mitigate. Through this close examination and categorization, teams hold themselves accountable for the impacts their products and services may create.

People attending a Consequence Scanning workshop.

Let’s explore the Consequence Scanning workshop structure and some associated best practices teams can use while planning a workshop at their organization. 


To explore more background information on the Consequence Scanning process, check out the Incorporate Ethics by Design Concepts unit in the Ethics by Design module on Trailhead.

Workshop Structure

The Consequence Scanning workshop structure has two phases: ideation and action. Let’s look at a brief overview of each phase, including the steps involved.


For a complete rundown of both phases, including a list of the prompt questions to activate in-depth participant thinking and responses, check out Consequence Scanning: An Agile Event for Responsible Innovators

Ideation Phase

During ideation, workshop participants and leaders, including a facilitator and product manager or team leader, think deeply about the intended and unintended consequences of a product or service feature. To prepare for this, facilitators ask participants to complete prework by capturing the intended consequences of a specific facet of a product or service and identify if they’re positive or negative. For example, leaders may ask participants to brainstorm and categorize the intended consequences of a new app feature its organization is creating. 

Next, leaders walk participants through the ideation phase steps as outlined here.

  1. Product managers or team leaders explain the workshop’s focus, including a recap of the product or service feature that the group is scanning.
  2. Workshop facilitators capture participants’ prework responses in the four-quadrant matrix.
  3. Workshop facilitators provide participants with prompts to help them think deeply about potential consequences beyond the obvious user experience. For example, apps that offer an open, unmonitored online peer-to-peer marketplace to connect people in need of a product temporarily with people who have it can potentially become a tool for money laundering or other criminal activity.
  4. Workshop facilitators ask participants to brainstorm more unintended consequences, providing prompts and questions to keep the conversation flowing.
  5. Workshop facilitators group participants to share their responses, asking them to categorize similar ideas together, keep track of positive and negative consequences, and capture them in the appropriate quadrant.

Action Phase 

During the action phase, participants take the ideas from ideation and turn them into actions by sorting the consequences into the three categories: act, influence, and monitor.

Let’s learn more about each category.

  • Act: Consequences are within the control of the participants, such as providing necessary technical support to make a product more accessible.
  • Influence: Consequences are out of participants’ control, but they can influence the outcome. An example might be when teams or individuals bring concerns to organizational leadership if they believe that a product or service feature in development might cause harm to communities.
  • Monitor: Consequences are completely beyond participant's control, such as political climate or global trends, but still important to understand and monitor.

After participants complete the categorization process, leaders:

  • Invite participants to vote with sticky notes on whether or not they believe consequences in the act and influence categories are positive or need to be mitigated.
  • Discuss with participants how to make the consequences in the act and influence categories more positive than negative, and assign responsibilities to product managers or other team leads to discuss the next step in a separate meeting.

Workshop Best Practices

Workshop leaders can follow these best practices to make sure participants get the most out of the Consequence Scanning process.

  • Use a narrow scope: Examine a particular feature or aspect of a product or service for a deeper dive and more meaningful conclusions. It’s also key for organizations to complete this in the early stages of development—it’s easier to workshop features early than in later stages.
  • Engage diverse perspectives: Bring together a cross-functional group with varied experiences to collaborate.
  • Assign homework: Ask participants to come to the workshop with a list of potential consequences that they’ve considered to keep the workshop as efficient as possible.
  • Make a plan: Task product managers and other team leaders with scheduling a separate prioritization meeting to discuss identified consequences. During the meeting, leaders ensure that the recommendations for remediating consequences get integrated into a current roadmap or other existing processes like user stories, engineering tasks, or design briefs.

Now that you know the basic structure and associated best practices for Consequence Scanning, you have the information you need to plan a workshop of your own! Use the resources at the end of this unit to help you every step of the way.

Through the Consequence Scanning process, you bring risks out in the open, creating space for thinking creatively about how to mitigate them. As a result, we all get to be innovators, designing technologies that enrich our lives and are a force for good.


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