Design for Changing Values

A research project on value change & socio-technical change

Our Research Project

Home > Project

Designing for Changing Values

How to Deal with Value Change in Sociotechnical System Design

Not value neutral

A key insight from philosophy of technology is that technological artifacts and sociotechnical systems are not value neutral, but support or inhibit certain values. Several philosophical accounts for understanding the embedding of values in technological artifacts have been proposed and approaches like Value Sensitive Design, Design for Values and Responsible Innovation have been established for integrating values into technical design.

A theoretical blind spot

A blind spot is, however, the possibility of value change after a sociotechnical system has been designed. For example, when many of our current energy and transportation systems were designed sustainability was not yet a central value, and we are now struggling to incorporate this value into these systems. Progress in the field is currently inhibited by the lack of a philosophical theory of value change in sociotechnical systems.

.

Better design strategies

This project fills the gap by developing such a theory. It moves beyond the state of the art by proposing a dynamic rather than a static account of values, by developing insights in the dynamics of value change, by extending analysis about the embedding of values in technical artefacts to sociotechnical systems and by developing design strategies that aim at designing sociotechnical systems that can better deal with value change.

.

This project was funded with an ERC Advanced Grant and will run from September 2018 until August 2023.

Project Objectives

Overall aim: To develop a philosophical theory of value change in sociotechnical systems

Gap: There is currently no theory of value change in sociotechnical systems. Although, some work has been done on technology and moral change in the philosophy of technology, a comprehensive theory for the case of sociotechnical systems is still missing.

What is in particular missing are the following conceptual building stones for such a theory:

  1. A notion of values that is applicable to sociotechnical systems,
  2. A taxonomy of value change,
  3. Mechanisms for value change in sociotechnical systems,
  4. A conceptualization of the relation between intended, embedded and realized values of sociotechnical systems and
  5. An understanding of the embedding of values in institutions as parts of sociotechnical systems.

How: Research lines 1-3 will develop these main conceptual building blocks; they will then be applied to empirical case studies in research lines 4-5, which may lead to a revision of these concepts, and they will be translated into strategies for dealing with changing values in research line 6.

A. To propose a notion of value that is applicable to sociotechnical systems and that can account for value change

Gap: Although values have been conceptualized in the literature on value sensitive design, these conceptualizations lack theoretical rigor and they insufficiently account for value change.

How: The project will develop, in research line 1, a notion of value that is applicable to sociotechnical systems on the basis of the relevant philosophical, psychological and sociological literature.

In addition, research line 2 will develop a notion of value that can account for value change by building on the idea from philosophical pragmatism (in particular John Dewey) that values can be conceived as generalized responses to earlier encountered morally problematic situations and that new moral problems may require ethical reflection and the development of new values.

B. To develop a taxonomy and mechanisms of value change in sociotechnical systems

Gap: In the philosophy of technology, some work has been done on technology and moral change. What is still missing is an analysis that looks more explicitly at values, design and sociotechnical systems.

In particular we lack a more precise taxonomy of different types of value change in sociotechnical systems and a theory of the different mechanisms by which values may change.

How: Based on the pragmatist account of value change mentioned above, in research line 2, a taxonomy for value change will be developed and different mechanisms for value change in sociotechnical systems will be discerned.

C. To extend philosophical analyses of the embedding of values in technical artifacts to sociotechnical systems

Gap: Various authors have developed accounts for how technological artifacts may embody values. What is lacking is an extension of such accounts to sociotechnical systems. Sociotechnical systems are systems that contain technological as well as human and institutional components. Examples are energy systems, transportation systems, and information and communication systems.

In particular institutions may be an important source for understanding how values can additionally be embedded in sociotechnical systems. Institutions are formal and informal rules, like the law or the operational instructions for a technology. Some studies in design for values have addressed the institutional dimensions of sociotechnical systems, but they have not yet systematically related institutions to values.

How: Research line 3 will extend philosophical analysis of the embedding of values in technical artifacts to sociotechnical systems, and it will in particular investigate how institutions as part of sociotechnical systems may embody values.

D. To carry out empirical studies about value change in sociotechnical systems that support the development of a theory of value change

Gap: There are many empirical studies about technology and its social impacts, but only very limited with the explicit aim to study value change in sociotechnical systems. Moreover, such studies have not been done from a comprehensive theoretical framework about value change in sociotechnical systems.

How: In research line 4 and 5, four empirical case studies in two domains (energy systems and robot systems) will be carried out. The cases have been selected so that they represent a broad variety and contrasting dynamics of value change.

The developing theory of value change will be applied to the empirical cases, which will lead to an iterative process of revising and further refining the developing theory.

E. To develop strategies that can better deal with value change in sociotechnical systems than current value sensitive design approaches

Gap: Value sensitive design and related approaches for integrating values in design do not yet address value change. These approaches moreover focus on technical design, while I will develop technical as well as institutional design strategies to deal with value change. Current approaches in the philosophy of technology focus only on anticipatory approaches and neglect the the design of sociotechnical systems.

How: Not all value change can be anticipated beforehand, but waiting until value change occurs and then adapting sociotechnical systems may also be costly and cumbersome. We therefore need proactive design strategies. These will be developed in research line 6. One innovative proactive design strategy that will be investigated is the use of artificial intelligence to design sociotechnical systems that can adapt to new values.