Measuring Values in SE

Values as mental representations.
FIgure 1: Values as mental representations to be studied on three levels: system (L1), personal (L2), and instantiation (L3) level.

“Measuring Values in Software Engineering”  is our latest peer-reviewed  work. It has been accepted for presentation at the 12th International Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement (ESEM2018), 11-12 October 2018, Oulu, Finland.  Accepted on: 13th  August 2018 . Pre-print version.


Background: Human values, such as prestige, personal security, social justice, and financial success, influence software production decision-making processes. Whether held by developers, clients or institutions, values are both highly subjective and deeply impactful on software outcomes. While their subjectivity makes some values difficult to measure, their impact on software motivates our research. Aim: To contribute to the scientific understanding and the empirical investigation of human values in Software Engineering (SE). Approach: Drawing from experimental psychology, we consider values as mental representations to be investigated on three levels: at a system (universal, L1), personal (abstract, L2), and instantiation level (concrete, L3). Method: We design and develop a selection of tools for the investigation of values at each level. As an example, we focus on the design, development, and use of a Values Q-Sort built by mapping Schwartz’s universal values model onto the ACM Code of Ethics. Results: Q-statistic sorts work with smaller samples than R-statistic surveys; from our study with 12 software practitioners, it is possible to extract 3 values ‘prototypes’ indicative of an emergent typology of values considerations in SE. Conclusions: The Values Q-Sort combines the extraction of quantitative values prototypes that indicate the connections between values (L1) with rich personal narratives (L2) reflective of specific software practices (L3), and as such, it supports a systematic, empirically-based approach to capturing values in SE.

Fully Funded PhD @ViC

Topic Values in Software Production
Closing Date 1st July 2018
Eligibility UK Students and EU Students
Location School of Computing and Communications (SCC), Lancaster University, UK
Funding Annual tax-free stipend with annual increment, fees fully funded and travel bursary provided
Hours Full time

Excellent news! We have a fully funded PhD position investigating social values in software production. This line of investigation works at the intersection of Software Engineering and Human Computer Interaction and is linked to the ViC project. As such, you will have the opportunity to work with an international research network and industry partners. This information can also be found on  SCC  research page:

Research Background

Much computing research focuses on understanding and developing digital technologies that can change people’s lives. Instead, Values in Computing aims to understand and systematically capture how digital technologies come to life and ‘behave’. In doing so, we argue that a more scientific understanding of values is needed, especially when it comes to computing technologies. The key research question is how values can be systematically studied in software production. More specifically:

  • What existing values-mapping techniques can be used and adapted to software production/SE?
  • How does investigating values in SE differ from other fields?
  • What values are specific to SE and software industry?
  • What approaches (i.e. computationally intensive, qualitative, quantitative, etc.) can be used to capture and track values?
Research Environment

Based in the School of Computing and Communications (SCC) you will be part of the ViC team, which offers a supportive and collegial environment. With expertise in rapid prototyping, agile development and participatory action research, ViC core team is flexible and can quickly reconfigure to bring extra expertise and support from its research and industry partners. We have several years experience of working together and in partnership with communities, practitioners, and businesses in EPSRC-funded projects such as Catalyst, tools for change and Clasp, personalised Health IoT.

About You

We invite applications from enthusiastic individuals who have a Masters or equivalent experience in Computer Science. Ideally, you have a background in the areas of software engineering, requirements engineering, and decision-making processes in software development environments. You must also demonstrate a strong interest in the role played by computing in society and an appreciation for fields such as philosophy of technology, psychology, and computer ethics.

You may start by using tools and techniques already developed by the ViC team or by designing and developing new ones and exploring new approaches. A combination of different research approaches are particularly welcome: from computationally intensive, to qualitative, quantitative or informed by speculative design. The scale of the investigation can also vary, from relatively compact case studies with industries, to large scale studies looking at automatic values extraction from on-line social media content and existing datasets.

Application Details

Please apply online via the University Postgraduate Admissions Portal with:

  • A CV (2 pages maximum)
  • Cover letter
  • University grade transcripts

Note that no proposal is required as part of the application, though evidence of research vision and relevant background knowledge on the state of the art in this area is encouraged. You should clearly state on your application that you are applying for a funded PhD opportunity on “Values in Computing ”.


We very much welcome informal queries about this opportunity, please contact Dr Maria Angela Ferrario email: m.a.ferrario[at]

ViC at Dagstuhl – July 2019

Details have just been confirmed,  ViC is going to Dagstuhl!


Christoph Becker (University of Toronto, CA)
Gregor Engels (Universität Paderborn, DE)
Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University – Burnaby, CA)
Maria Angela Ferrario (Lancaster University, UK)
Geraldine Fitzpatrick (TU Wien, AT)

This seminar aims to examine the  relations between values, computing technologies and society. It does so by bringing together practitioners and researchers from several areas within and beyond computer science, including human computer interaction, software engineering, computer ethics, moral philosophy, philosophy of technology, investigative data science, and critical data studies.

Values in Computing Dagstuhl micro site

Dagstuhl seminars are a fantastic opportunity for academics and practitioners  to come together, exchange experiences, explore ideas and put research to work. The seminar is planned for July 2019.