Human Values in Computing

SnAPP, a wearable technology and mobile app built with a values-first approach. Developed as part of Clasp, Health IoT project.

Values in Computing (ViC) is about understanding how human values work in software production. We investigate both easier to measure values such as the commercial success of a software product and more difficult to capture values such as fairness, trust and ‘public good’.

Our work helps to identify the tensions within and between software development teams, stakeholders and end-users. By doing so, our research may help to anticipate technical decisions that could lead to breaches of  moral standards and interfere with the very public good that it wishes to support.

Background

After several years spent  developing digital technologies for the public ‘good’ in digital healthcommunity renewables, and civic technologies,  a group of people based at Lancaster University started investigating what ‘public good’ and other human values actually mean and how they get into code. With the support  from the EPSRC, industry and research partners,  team ViC  was formed.

WHY does this matter?

Computational-intensive techniques are widely used to tap into deeply held human values, at least ‘believably’  and at times questionably. Rather than tapping into people’s values and influence their decisions to change their lives, we examine how human values shape technical decisions and bring software to life.

KEY RESEARCH Questions
  • How can human values be systematically studied in software production/SE?
  • What existing values-mapping methods can be used/adapted to SE?
  • How does investigating values in SE differ from other fields?
  • What values are specific to software industry?
  • What approaches (i.e. computationally intensive, qualitative, quantitative, etc.) can be used to capture and talk about values?
  • What do these systematic approaches capture? What do they leave behind? How can we tell?
Activities

We are involved in a number of research, education, and outreach activities, engaging with businesses, the public sector, academia and cultural institutions. We use a range of quantitative, qualitative and design thinking methods – check our updates to find out more.

WHAT WE REALLY WANT

Ultimately,  we want to support the next generation of computing professionals with the deliberative, technical, and critical skills necessary to tell the difference between what is worth pursuing  – in research, education, government, and industry – from what is potentially harmful to self and society. How can we create and support organizations where this is encouraged?

This blog reports and questions the research activities and findings of our team and related work.

Credits

Blog  photo: “Make Good – Between Bloor and Shaw” by ViC team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.