Engineering Change Lab
Science & Technology
BENDING THE ARC OF TECH TOWARD GOOD
The Challenge: The professionals who create and apply technology shape society’s most powerful elements. They also have a front-row seat to technology’s most destructive effects. Too often, the work of these professionals conflicts with their values, leaving them feeling isolated and powerless to create positive change.
The Solution: As leader of the Engineering Change Lab, Mark Abbott’s purpose is to reorient technological development through the lens of technological stewardship. Tech stewards come together to (re)imagine the creation, implementation, and application of technology in more purposeful, responsible, inclusive, and regenerative ways.
Building a more ethical, intentional technological future
“Wait: what is engineering?”
That question — posed, ironically, by the dean of a Canadian university engineering program — has driven Mark Abbott for more than a decade.
As an “accidental engineer,” Mark worked his way up through the corporate engineering ranks, growing increasingly dissatisfied with the disjunct between his profession’s relentless focus on developing technology for human convenience — while shying away from the larger, often negative, impacts of that technology on humanity.
Real change, Mark realized, needed to come not from tweaks here and there in the engineering profession to make it “greener” or more diverse, but from a radical reimagining of engineering itself. “We need to critically rethink about how and why we build technology, not to mention who builds it, who governs it, who has access to it, and who and what is displaced by it.”
In 2015, Mark established the Engineering Change Lab to grapple with such questions — and as a platform to redefine the profession and its relationship to the larger world. The lab established the framework of technological stewardship: a set of principles, tools, and practices that enable a purposeful, regenerative, inclusive and responsible understanding of the role of technology and the professionals who create and apply it in everyday life.
Too often, explains Mark, tech creators polarize between the questions of “Can we do it?” and “Should we do it?” while Technological stewardship takes a “both/and” approach, bringing together the best of both mindsets, and creating a space for professionals to productively grapple with and navigate the value tensions inherent in their careers.
The ECL has brought together more than 350 leaders from 150 tech and engineering organizations, as well as partners in the arts, social justice, environmental and Indigenous communities. It is collaborating with Canadian colleges and universities from across the country on a pilot project to embed technological stewardship as a foundation of education, and with companies to leverage the concept professionally and to build social responsibility and inclusiveness into new technologies.
Mark envisions tech stewardship becoming the new normal not only for engineering in Canada, but for a wide range of professions, nationally and internationally. He’s passionate about collaborating across borders and sectors to foster this broader movement — “So reach out to me!”
Ultimately, Mark envisions a world where everyone is a tech steward. “We all constantly interact with a wide range of technologies; therefore every citizen has a role to play in shaping our co-evolution with our technologies. Real change takes a movement, and movements are successful when individuals unite around a common purpose towards a tipping point.”