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]lancaster.ac.uk

ViC at UofT

Bluebug, Toronto, photo by m@ViC

Marie from team ViC has a visiting position at the DCI, University of Toronto, Canada (as a DCI Fellow in Digital Sustainability). This week she will be giving a talk on ‘Values in Computing, Connecting the Bits’.

This talk introduces some of the tools and emerging findings from ViC latest work and from activities carried out at UofT as part of her fellowship. A broader perspective on the issues connecting tech industry, academic research, and governance will be thrown into the mix as well as provocations from the current state of affairs and the metaphysical roots of the binary system.

ViC Pilot at TuW

Piloting values Q-Sort

What values are guiding software engineering?  And what methods and tools might we be able to use to study this?  These are the questions that the Values-First SE (Software Engineering) project hopes to answer.

One month into the project, my colleague Steve Forshaw and I (Emily Winter) traveled from Lancaster to Vienna to meet with project partners and Human Computer Interaction experts at the Institute of Visual Computing and Human-Centered Technology at TUWien.  We took with us some pilot tools  (i.e. the values q-sort cards mapping the latest draft of ACM ethics to Schwartz’s values model – see photo above) that we had been developing, and over the course of the week received feedback as to how we might modify and improve them.

The week was an important reminder of the inherent messiness of this research area- the slipperiness of values, and the difficulties posed by trying to study them.  Studying values in an area like software engineering involves multiple aspects.  We can expect software design and development to be influenced by the values of wider society including politics and economics; the principles and norms of the software industry; the corporate culture of the specific company; and the values and priorities of the individual developer.

The values of these different actors may sometimes align and may sometimes be in conflict.  In addition, there are differences between people’s and organisation’s espoused values and actual practices.  We might also expect that the values embedded into a software product may change radically once the software is released into the market, particularly if it enters into wide usage.

It’s a huge challenge.  But there are methods and tools available to study values, and the trip to Vienna allowed us to try out some early ideas.  The very nature of the research area offers exciting opportunities to combine different methods and tools, and there are established frameworks, such as Schwartz’s values model that can be used.

The necessity of  trying to tackle this challenge also seems ever more pressing.  In Vienna, we heard about TUWien’s new module on Ways of Thinking in Informatics- a module that hopes to encourage critical thinking in computing.  However, in many cases, computer science courses rarely include content and opportunities to reflect on values, unless it is in the form of ethics, which are often presented in dry and uninspiring forms.

As software increasingly influence people’s lives and as scandals like the Cambridge Analytica  and SCL case emerge (see Emma Briant’s work on the matter, for example), the need to spark discussion around values in computing seems ever more urgent.  As the project progresses, we hope not only to develop methods and tools to study the values that are prevalent within software engineering, but also to play a role in encouraging this vital conversation.