Ethical assurance of digital mental healthcare

A participatory approach to providing ethical assurance of data-driven technologies for mental healthcare

Project status



The use of data-driven technologies in mental healthcare, such as machine learning or AI, poses a series of well-known ethical, social, and legal risks for matters such as data privacy, explainability of automated decisions, and respect for mental integrity. Providing assurance that these matters have been addressed responsibly requires a participatory approach that includes affected stakeholders within the design, development, or deployment of the respective technology. This project will work with a range of stakeholders to understand what issues matter most to them, and how to develop a justifiable method of assurance that helps promote trust and confidence in digital mental healthcare.

Explaining the science

The method of assurance that this project will rely upon is known as argument- based assurance. This is a process of using structured argumentation to provide evidence-based justification to another party that a system or product will operate as intended within a well-defined environment. Argument-based assurance is an established method of governance in safety-critical areas, and facilitates trustworthy communication between developers and stakeholders.

Key to this method is the development of an assurance case, which serves as a formal and visual means for representing how a particular goal has been achieved, by reference to a set of claims that establish central properties about the system or project. In turn, these claims are warranted by reference to clearly documented evidence that can help stakeholders assess the overall justifiability of the assurance case (or, argument).

Argument-based assurance has a range of supporting tools and mechanisms to enabled the development and review of assurance cases. For instance, there are models and argument patterns that serve as guides and templates for building an assurance case. In addition, there are best practices for how to frame an assurance case so that it supports a wide range of functions, such as anticipatory reflection, risk identification and minimisation, and accessible and transparent communication.

This project will expand these tools and methods such that they can also provide assurance for key ethical goals, such as sustainability, accountability, fairness, and explainability. Because each goal presupposes a core set of normative values, it is vital that ethical assurance is an inherently participatory activity. Therefore, our project will also demonstrate how to support stakeholder engagement and participation and link these activities with the building of an assurance case.


There already exist a wide range of standards for the assurance of a product or system’s safety, security, or reliability (e.g. NCAP standards for car safety). These standards of assurance are both important governance mechanisms and also valuable means of communicating and establishing trust between different stakeholder groups.

However, similar standards or frameworks for ethical properties, such as sustainability, accountability, fairness, and explainability are, by comparison, not sufficiently nor widely established or accepted.

By showing how a method of ethical assurance can support and enhance the governance of a project involving a digital mental healthcare technology, this project will develop both a theoretical framework and practical mechanism that can assist the design, development, and deployment of the technology.


Professor David Leslie

Director of Ethics and Responsible Innovation Research at The Alan Turing Institute and Professor of Ethics, Technology and Society, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Kate Devlin

Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King's College London

Researchers and collaborators