Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems
BATYA FRIEDMAN, PETER H. KAHN, JR., AND ALAN BORNING
University of Washington
Forthcoming in P. Zhang & D. Galletta (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction in
Management Information Systems: Foundations. M.E. Sharpe, Inc: NY.
Value Sensitive Design is a theoretically grounded approach to the design of technology that accounts for
human values in a principled and comprehensive manner throughout the design process. It employs an
integrative and iterative tripartite methodology, consisting of conceptual, empirical, and technical
investigations. We explicate Value Sensitive Design by drawing on three case studies. The first study concerns
information and control of web browser cookies, implicating the value of informed consent. The second study
concerns using high-definition plasma displays in an office environment to provide a “window” to the outside
world, implicating the values of physical and psychological well-being and privacy in public spaces. The third
study concerns an integrated land use, transportation, and environmental simulation system to support public
deliberation and debate on major land use and transportation decisions, implicating the values of fairness,
accountability, and support for the democratic process, as well as a highly diverse range of values that might be
held by different stakeholders, such as environmental sustainability, opportunities for business expansion, or
walkable neighborhoods. We conclude with direct and practical suggestions for how to engage in Value
There is a longstanding interest in designing information and computational systems that
support enduring human values. Researchers have focused, for example, on the value of
privacy [Ackerman and Cranor 1999; Agre and Rotenberg 1998; Fuchs 1999; Jancke et
al. 2001; Palen and Grudin 2003; Tang 1997], ownership and property [Lipinski and
Britz 2000], physical welfare [Leveson 1991], freedom from bias [Friedman and
Nissenbaum 1996], universal usability [Shneiderman 1999, 2000; Thomas 1997],
autonomy [Suchman 1994; Winograd 1994], informed consent [Millett et al. 2001], and
trust [Fogg and Tseng 1999; Palen and Grudin 2003; Riegelsberger and Sasse 2002;
Rocco 1998; Zheng et al. 2001]. Still, there is a need for an overarching theoretical and
methodological framework with which to handle the value dimensions of design work.
Value Sensitive Design is one effort to provide such a framework (e.g., Friedman
[1997a], Friedman and Kahn , Friedman and Nissenbaum , Hagman,
Hendrickson, and Whitty , Nissenbaum , Tang , and Thomas ).
Our goal in this paper is to provide an account of Value Sensitive Design, with enough
detail for other researchers and designers to critically examine and systematically build
on this approach.
We begin by sketching the key features of Value Sensitive Design, and then describe
its integrative tripartite methodology, which involves conceptual, empirical, and technical
investigations, employed iteratively. Then we explicate Value Sensitive Design by
drawing on three case studies. One involves cookies and informed consent in web
browsers; the second involves HDTV display technology in an office environment; the
third involves user interactions and interface for an integrated land use, transportation,
and environmental simulation. We conclude with direct and practical suggestions for how
to engage in Value Sensitive Design.
2. WHAT IS VALUE SENSITIVE DESIGN?
Value Sensitive Design is a theoretically grounded approach to the design of technology
that accounts for human values in a principled and comprehensive manner throughout the
2.1. What is a Value?
In a narrow sense, the word “value” refers simply to the economic worth of an object.
For example, the value of a computer could be said to be two thousand dollars. However,
in the work described here, we use a broader meaning of the term wherein a value refers
to what a person or group of people consider important in life.1 In this sense, people find
many things of value, both lofty and mundane: their children, friendship, morning tea,
education, art, a walk in the woods, nice manners, good science, a wise leader, clean air.
This broader framing of values has a long history. Since the time of Plato, for
example, the content of value-oriented discourse has ranged widely, emphasizing “the
good, the end, the right, obligation, virtue, moral judgment, aesthetic judgment, the
beautiful, truth, and validity” [Frankena 1972, p. 229]. Sometimes ethics has been
subsumed within a theory of values, and other times conversely, with ethical values
viewed as just one component of ethics more generally. Either way, it is usually agreed
[Moore 1903/1978] that values should not be conflated with facts (the “fact/value
distinction”) especially insofar as facts do not logically entail value. In other words, “is”
does not imply “ought” (the naturalistic fallacy). In this way, values cannot be motivated
only by an empirical account of the external world, but depend substantively on the
interests and desires of human beings within a cultural milieu. In Table 1 in Section 6.8,
we provide a list of human values with ethical import that are often implicated in system
design, along with working definitions and references to the literature.
2.2. Related Approaches to Values and System Design
In the 1950’s, during the early periods of computerization, cyberneticist Norbert Wiener
[1953/1985] argued that technology could help make us better human beings, and create a
more just society. But for it to do so, he argued, we have to take control of the
technology. We have to reject the “worshiping [of] the new gadgets which are our own
creation as if they were our masters” (p. 678). Similarly, a few decades later, computer
scientist Joseph Weizenbaum  wrote:
What is wrong, I think, is that we have permitted technological metaphors…and
technique itself to so thoroughly pervade our thought processes that we have finally
abdicated to technology the very duty to formulate questions…Where a simple man
might ask: “Do we need these things?”, technology asks “what electronic wizardry
will make them safe?” Where a simple man will ask “is it good?”, technology asks
“will it work?” (pp. 611-612)
More recently, supporting human values through system design has emerged within at
least four important approaches. Computer Ethics advances our understanding of key
values that lie at the intersection of computer technology and human lives, e.g., Bynum
, Johnson and Miller , and Nissenbaum . Social Informatics has been
successful in providing socio-technical analyses of deployed technologies, e.g., Kling,
Rosenbaum, and Hert , Kling and Star , and Sawyer and Rosenbaum .
1 The Oxford English Dictionary definition of this sense of value is: “the principles or
standards of a person or society, the personal or societal judgement of what is valuable
and important in life.” [Simpson and Weiner 1989]
Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) has been successful in the design of
new technologies to help people collaborate effectively in the workplace, e.g., Fuchs
, Galegher, Kraut, and Egido , Olson and Teasley , and Grudin
. Finally, Participatory Design substantively embeds democratic values into its
practice, e.g., Bjerknes & Bratteteig , Bødker , Ehn , Greenbaum and
Kyng , and Kyng and Mathiassen . (See Friedman and Kahn  for a
review of each of these approaches.)
3. THE TRIPARTITE METHODLOGY: CONCEPTUAL, EMPIRICAL, AND
Think of an oil painting by Monet or Cézanne. From a distance it looks whole; but up
close you can see many layers of paint upon paint. Some paints have been applied with
careful brushstrokes, others perhaps energetically with a palate knife or fingertips,
conveying outlines or regions of color. The diverse techniques are employed one on top
of the other, repeatedly, and in response to what has been laid down earlier. Together
they create an artifact that could not have been generated by a single technique in
isolation of the others. So, too, with Value Sensitive Design. An artifact (e.g., system
design) emerges through iterations upon a process that is more than the sum of its parts.
Nonetheless, the parts provide us with a good place to start. Value Sensitive Design
builds on an iterative methodology that integrates conceptual, empirical, and technical
investigations; thus, as a step toward conveying Value Sensitive Design, we describe
each investigation separately.
3.1 Conceptual Investigations
Who are the direct and indirect stakeholders affected by the design at hand? How are
both classes of stakeholders affected? What values are implicated? How should we
engage in trade-offs among competing values in the design, implementation, and use of
information systems (e.g., autonomy vs. security, or anonymity vs. trust)? Should moral
values (e.g., a right to privacy) have greater weight than, or even trump, non-moral values
(e.g., aesthetic preferences)? Value Sensitive Design takes up these questions under the
rubric of conceptual investigations.
In addition, careful working conceptualizations of specific values clarify fundamental
issues raised by the project at hand, and provide a basis for comparing results across
research teams. For example, in their analysis of trust in online system design, Friedman,
Kahn, and Howe , drawing on Baier , first offer a philosophically informed
working conceptualization of trust. They propose that people trust when they are
vulnerable to harm from others, yet believe those others would not harm them even
though they could. In turn, trust depends on people’s ability to make three types of
assessments. One is about the harms they might incur. The second is about the good will
others possess toward them that would keep those others from doing them harm. The
third involves whether or not harms that do occur lie outside the parameters of the trust
relationship. From such conceptualizations, Friedman et al. were able to define clearly
what they meant by trust online. This definition is in some cases different from what
other researchers have meant by the term – for example, the Computer Science and
Telecommunications Board, in their thoughtful publication Trust in Cyberspace
[Schneider 1999], adopted the terms “trust” and “trustworthy” to describe systems that
perform as expected along the dimensions of correctness, security, reliability, safety, and
survivability. Such a definition, which equates “trust” with expectations for machine
performance, differs markedly from one that says trust is fundamentally a relationship
between people (sometimes mediated by machines).
3.2 Empirical Investigations
Conceptual investigations can only go so far. Depending on the questions at hand, many
analyses will need to be informed by empirical investigations of the human context in
which the technical artifact is situated. Empirical investigations are also often needed to
evaluate the success of a particular design. Empirical investigations can be applied to
any human activity that can be observed, measured, or documented. Thus, the entire
range of quantitative and qualitative methods used in social science research is potentially
applicable here, including observations, interviews, surveys, experimental manipulations,
collection of relevant documents, and measurements of user behavior and human
Empirical investigations can focus, for example, on questions such as: How do
stakeholders apprehend individual values in the interactive context? How do they
prioritize competing values in design trade-offs? How do they prioritize individual
values and usability considerations? Are there differences between espoused practice
(what people say) compared with actual practice (what people do)? Moreover, because
the development of new technologies affects groups as well as individuals, questions
emerge of how organizations appropriate value considerations in the design process. For
example, regarding value considerations, what are organizations’ motivations, methods of
training and dissemination, reward structures, and economic incentives?
3.3 Technical Investigations
As discussed in Section 2.3 (Value Sensitive Design’s Constellation of Features), Value
Sensitive Design adopts the position that technologies in general, and information and
computer technologies in particular, provide value suitabilities that follow from
properties of the technology. That is, a given technology is more suitable for certain
activities and more readily supports certain values while rendering other activities and
values more difficult to realize.
In one form, technical investigations focus on how existing technological properties
and underlying mechanisms support or hinder human values. For example, some video-
based collaborative work systems provide blurred views of office settings, while other
systems provide clear images that reveal detailed information about who is present and
what they are doing. Thus the two designs differentially adjudicate the value trade-off
between an individual’s privacy and the group’s awareness of individual members’
presence and activities.
In the second form, technical investigations involve the proactive design of systems to
support values identified in the conceptual investigation. For example, Fuchs 
developed a notification service for a collaborative work system in which the underlying
technical mechanisms implement a value hierarchy whereby an individual’s desire for
privacy overrides other group members’ desires for awareness.
At times, technical investigations – particularly of the first form – may seem similar
to empirical investigations insofar as both involve technological and empirical activity.
However, they differ markedly on their unit of analysis. Technical investigations focus
on the technology itself. Empirical investigations focus on the individuals, groups, or
larger social systems that configure, use, or are otherwise affected by the technology.
4. VALUE SENSITIVE DESIGN IN PRACTICE: THREE CASE STUDIES
To illustrate Value Sensitive Design’s integrative and iterative tripartite methodology, we
draw on three case studies with real world applications, one completed and two under
way. Each case study represents a unique design space.
4.1 Cookies and Informed Consent in Web Browsers
Informed consent provides a critical protection for privacy, and supports other human
values such as autonomy and trust. Yet currently there is a mismatch between industry
practice and the public’s interest. According to a recent report from the Federal Trade
Commission (2000), for example, 59% of Web sites that collect personal identifying
information neither inform Internet users that they are collecting such information nor
seek the user’s consent. Yet, according to a Harris poll (2000), 88% of users want sites to
garner their consent in such situations.
Against this backdrop, Friedman, Felten, and their colleagues [Friedman et al. 2002;
Friedman et al. 2000; Millett et al. 2001] sought to design web-based interactions that
support informed consent in a web browser through the development of new technical
mechanisms for cookie management. This project was an early proof-of-concept project
for Value Sensitive Design, which we use here to illustrate several key features of the
4.1.1 Conceptualizing the Value. One part of a conceptual investigation entails a
philosophically informed analysis of the central value constructs. Accordingly, Friedman
et al. began their project with a conceptual investigation of informed consent itself. They
drew on diverse literature, such as the Belmont Report, which delineates ethical
principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects [Belmont Report 1978;
Faden and Beauchamp 1986], to develop criteria for informed consent in online
interactions. In brief, the idea of “informed” encompasses disclosure and comprehension.
Disclosure refers to providing accurate information about the benefits and harms that
might reasonably be expected from the action under consideration. Comprehension
refers to the individual’s accurate interpretation of what is being disclosed. In turn, the
idea of “consent” encompasses voluntariness, comprehension, and agreement.
Voluntariness refers to ensuring that the action is not controlled or coerced. Competence
refers to possessing the mental, emotional and physical capabilities needed to be capable
of giving informed consent. Agreement refers to a reasonably clear opportunity to accept
or decline to participate. Moreover, agreement should be ongoing, that is, the individual
should be able to withdraw from the interaction at any time. See Friedman, Millet, and
Felten  for an expanded discussion of these five criteria.
4.1.2 Using a Conceptual Investigation to Analyze Existing Technical Mechanisms.
With a conceptualization for informed consent online in hand, Friedman et al. conducted
a retrospective analysis (one form of a technical investigation) of how the cookie and
web-browser technology embedded in Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer changed
with respect to informed consent over a 5-year period, beginning in 1995. Specifically,
they used the criteria of disclosure, comprehension, voluntariness, competence, and
agreement to evaluate how well each browser in each stage of its development supported
the users’ experience of informed consent. Through this retrospective analysis, they
found that while cookie technology had improved over time regarding informed consent
(e.g., increased visibility of cookies, increased options for accepting or declining cookies,
and access to information about cookie content), as of 1999 some startling problems
remained. For example: (a) While browsers disclosed to users some information about
cookies, they still did not disclose the right sort of information – that is, information
about the potential harms and benefits from setting a particular cookie. (b) In Internet
Explorer, the burden to accept or decline all third party cookies still fell to the user,
placing undue burden on the user to decline each third party cookie one at a time. (c)
Users’ out-of-the-box experience of cookies (i.e., the default setting) was no different in
1999 than it was in 1995: to accept all cookies. That is, the novice user installed a
browser that accepted all cookies and disclosed nothing about that activity to the user.
(d) Neither browser alerted a user when a site wished to use a cookie and for what
purpose, as opposed to when a site wished to store a cookie.
(a) Peripheral awareness mechanism. (b) Just-in-time cookie management tool.
Figure 1. Screen shot (a) of the Mozilla implementation shows the peripheral awareness of cookies
interface (at the left) in the context of browsing the web. Each time a cookie is set, a color-coded
entry for that cookie appears in the sidebar. Third party cookies are red; others are green. At the
user’s discretion, he or she can click on any entry to bring up the Mozilla cookie manager for that
cookie. Screen shot (b) after the user has clicked on an entry to bring up the just-in-time cookie
management tool (in the center) for a particular cookie.
4.1.3 The Iteration and Integration of Conceptual, Technical, and Empirical
Investigations. Based on the results from these conceptual and technical investigations,
Friedman et al. then iteratively used the results to guide a second technical investigation:
a redesign of the Mozilla browser (the open-source code for Netscape Navigator).
Specifically, they developed three new types of mechanisms: (a) peripheral awareness of
cookies; (b) just-in-time information about individual cookies and cookies in general; and
(c) just-in-time management of cookies (see Figure 1). In the process of their technical
work, Friedman et al. conducted formative evaluations (empirical investigations) which
led to a further design criterion, minimal distraction, which refers to meeting the above
criteria for informed consent without unduly diverting the user from the task at hand.
Two situations are of concern here. First, if users are overwhelmed with queries to
consent to participate in events with minor benefits and risks, they may become numbed
to the informed consent process by the time participation in an event with significant
benefits and risks is at hand. Thus, the user’s participation in that event may not receive
the careful attention that is warranted. Second, if the overall distraction to obtain
informed consent becomes so great as to be perceived to be an intolerable nuisance, users
are likely to disengage from the informed consent process in its entirety and accept or
decline participation by rote. Thus undue distraction can single-handedly undermine
informed consent. In this way, the iterative results of the above empirical investigations
not only shaped and then validated the technical work, but impacted the initial conceptual
investigation by adding to the model of informed consent the criterion of minimal
Thus, this project illustrates the iterative and integrative nature of Value Sensitive
Design, and provides a proof-of-concept for Value Sensitive Design in the context of
mainstream Internet software.
4.2 Room with a View: Using Plasma Displays in Interior Offices
Janice is in her office, writing a report. She’s trying to conceptualize the report’s
higher-level structure, but her ideas won’t quite take form. Then she looks up from
her desk and rests her eyes on the fountain and plaza area outside her building. She
notices the water bursting upward, and that a small group of people are gathering by
the water’s edge. She rests her eyes on the surrounding pool of calm water. Her
eyes then lift toward the clouds and the streaking sunshine. Twenty seconds later she
returns to her writing task at hand, slightly refreshed, and with an idea taking shape.
What’s particularly novel about this workplace scenario is that Janice works in an
interior office. Instead of a real window looking out onto the plaza, Janice has a large
screen video plasma display that continuously displays the local outdoor scene in real-
time. Realistic? Beneficial? This design space is currently being researched by Kahn,
Friedman, and their colleagues, using the framework of Value Sensitive Design.
In Kahn et al.’s initial conceptual investigation of this design space, they drew on the
psychological literature that suggests that interaction with real nature can garner
physiological and psychological benefits. For example, in one study, Ulrich 
found that post-operative recovery improved when patients were assigned to a room with
a view of a natural setting (a small stand of deciduous trees) versus a view of a brown
brick wall. More generally, studies have shown that even minimal connection with
nature – such as looking at a natural landscape – can reduce immediate and long-term
stress, reduce sickness of prisoners, and calm patients before and during surgery. (See
Beck and Katcher , Kahn , and Ulrich  for reviews.) Thus Kahn et al.
hypothesized that an “augmented window” of nature could render benefits in a work
environment in terms of the human values of physical health, emotional well-being, and
To investigate this question in a laboratory context, Kahn et al. are comparing the
short-term benefits of working in an office with a view out the window of a beautiful
nature scene versus an identical view (in real time) shown on a large video plasma
display that covers the window in the same office (Figure 2a). In this latter condition,
they employed a High Definition TV (HDTV) camera (Figure 2b) to capture real-time
local images. The control condition involved a blank covering over the window. Their
measures entailed (a) physiological data (heart rate), (b) performance data (on cognitive
and creativity tasks), (c) video data that captured each subject’s eye gaze on a second-by-
second level, and time synchronized with the physiological equipment, so that analyses
can determine whether physiological benefits accrued immediately following an eye gaze
onto the plasma screen, and (d) social-cognitive data (based on a 50-minute interview
with each subject at the conclusion of the experimental condition wherein they garnered
each subject’s reasoned perspective on the experience). Data analysis is in progress.
However, preliminary results are showing the following trends. First, participants looked
out the plasma screen just as frequently as they did the real window, and more frequently
than they stared at the blank wall. In this sense, the plasma-display window was
functioning like a real window. But, when participants gazed for 30 seconds or more, the
real window provided greater physiological recovery from low-level stress as compared
to the plasma display window.
(a) “The Watcher” (b) The HDTV Camera (c) “The Watched”
Figure 2. Plasma Display Technology Studies
From the standpoint of illustrating Value Sensitive Design, we would like to
emphasize five ideas.
4.2.1. Multiple Empirical Methods. Under the rubric of empirical investigations,
Value Sensitive Design supports and encourages multiple empirical methods to be used
in concert to address the question at hand. As noted above, for example, this study
employed physiological data (heart rate), two types of performance data (on cognitive
and creativity tasks), behavioral data (eye gaze), and reasoning data (the social-cognitive
interview). From a value-oriented perspective, multiple psychological measures increase
the veracity of most accounts of technology in use.
4.2.2. Direct and Indirect Stakeholders. In their initial conceptual investigation of
the values implicated in this study, Kahn et al. sought to identify not only direct but also
indirect stakeholders affected by such display technology. At that early point, it became
clear to the researchers that an important class of indirect stakeholders (and their
respective values) needed to be included: namely, the individuals who, by virtue of
walking through the fountain scene, unknowingly had their images displayed on the
video plasma display in the “inside” office (Figure 2c). In other words, if this application
of projection technology were to come into widespread use (as web cams and
surveillance cameras have begun to) then it would potentially encroach on the privacy of
individuals in public spaces – an issue that has been receiving increasing attention in the
field of computer ethics and public discourse [Nissenbaum 1998]. Thus, in addition to
the experimental laboratory study, Kahn et al. initiated two additional but complementary
empirical investigations with indirect stakeholders: (a) a survey of 750 people walking
through the public plaza, and (b) in-depth social cognitive interviews with 30 individuals
walking through the public plaza [Friedman, Kahn, and Hagman 2004]. Both
investigations focused on indirect stakeholders’ judgments of privacy in public space, and
in particular having their real-time images captured and displayed on plasma screens in
nearby and distant offices. The importance of such indirect stakeholder investigations is
being borne out by the results. For example, significant gender differences were found in
their survey data: more women than men expressed concern about the invasion of privacy
through web cameras in public places. This finding held whether their image was to be
displayed locally or in another city (Tokyo), or viewed by one person, thousands, or
millions. One implication of this finding is that future technical designs and
implementations of such display technologies need to be responsive to ways in which
men and women might perceive potential harms differently.
4.2.3. Coordinated Empirical Investigations. Once Kahn et al. identified an
important group of indirect stakeholders, and decided to undertake empirical
investigations with this group, they then coordinated these empirical investigations with
the initial (direct stakeholder) study. Specifically, a subset of identical questions were
asked of both the direct stakeholders (“The Watchers”) and indirect stakeholders (“The
Watched”). Results show some interesting differences. For example, more men in The
Watched condition expressed concerns about that people’s images might be displayed
locally, nationally, or internationally than men in The Plasma Display Watcher condition.
No differences were found between women in The Watcher Plasma Display Condition
and women in the Watched condition. Thus, the Value Sensitive Design methodology
helps to bring to the forefront values that matter not only to the direct stakeholders of a
technology (such as physical health, emotional well-being, and creativity), but to the
indirect stakeholders (such as privacy, informed consent, trust, and physical safety).
Moreover, from the standpoint of Value Sensitive Design, the above study highlights how
investigations of indirect stakeholders can be woven into the core structure of the
experimental design with direct stakeholders.
4.2.4. Multiplicity of and Potential Conflicts among Human Values. Value Sensitive
Design can help researchers uncover the multiplicity of and potential conflicts among
human values implicated in technological implementations. In the above design space,
for example, values of physical health, emotional well-being, and creativity appear to
partially conflict with other values of privacy, civil rights, trust, and security.
4.2.5. Technical Investigations. Conceptual and empirical investigations can help to
shape future technological investigations, particularly in terms of how nature (as a source
of information) can be embedded in the design of display technologies to further human
well-being. One obvious design space involves buildings. For example, if Kahn et al.’s
empirical results continue to emerge in line with their initial results, then one possible
design guideline is as follows: we need to design buildings with nature in mind, and
within view. In other words, we cannot with psychological impunity digitize nature and
display the digitized version as a substitute for the real thing (and worse, then destroy the
original). At the same time, it is possible that technological representations of nature can
garner some psychological benefits, especially when (as in an inside office) direct access
to nature is otherwise unavailable. Other less obvious design spaces involve, for
example, airplanes. In recent discussions with Boeing Corporation, for example, we were
told that for economic reasons engineers might like to construct airplanes without
passenger windows. After all, windows cost more to build and decrease fuel efficiency.
At stake, however, is the importance of windows in the human experience of flying.
In short, this case study highlights how Value Sensitive Design can help researchers
employ multiple psychological methods, across several studies, with direct and indirect
stakeholders, to investigate (and ultimately support) a multiplicity of human values
impacted by deploying a cutting-edge information technology.
4.3 UrbanSim: Integrated Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental
In many regions in the United States (and globally), there is increasing concern about
pollution, traffic jams, resource consumption, loss of open space, loss of coherent
community, lack of sustainability, and unchecked sprawl. Elected officials, planners, and
citizens in urban areas grapple with these difficult issues as they develop and evaluate
alternatives for such decisions as building a new rail line or freeway, establishing an
urban growth boundary, or changing incentives or taxes. These decisions interact in
complex ways, and, in particular, transportation and land use decisions interact strongly
with each other. There are both legal and common sense reasons to try to understand the
long-term consequences of these interactions and decisions. Unfortunately, the need for
this understanding far outstrips the capability of the analytic tools used in current
In response to this need, Waddell, Borning, and their colleagues have been
developing UrbanSim, a large simulation package for predicting patterns of urban
development for periods of twenty years or more, under different possible scenarios
[Waddell 2002; Noth et al. 2003; Waddell et al. 2003]. Its primary purpose is to provide
urban planners and other stakeholders with tools to aid in more informed decision-
making, with a secondary goal to support further democratization of the planning process.
When provided with different scenarios – packages of possible policies and investments –
UrbanSim models the resulting patterns of urban growth and redevelopment, of
transportation usage, and of resource consumption and other environmental impacts.
(a) 1980 Employment (b) Change 1980-1994 (c) Resulting 1994 Employment
Figure 3. Results from UrbanSim for Eugene/Springfield, Oregon, forecasting land use patterns
over a 14-year period. These results arise from the simulated interactions among demographic
change, economic change, real estate development, transportation, and other actors and processes
in the urban environment. Map (a) shows the employment density in 1980 (number of jobs located in
each 150x150 meter grid cell). Darker red indicates higher density. Map (b) shows the predicted
change from 1980 to 1994 (where darker red indicates a greater change), and map (c) the predicted
employment density in 1994. In a historical validation of the model, this result was then compared
with the actual 1994 employment, with a 0.917 correlation over a 1-cell radius.
To date, UrbanSim has been applied in the metropolitan regions around
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon (Figure 3), Honolulu, Hawaii, Salt Lake City, Utah, and
Houston, Texas, with application to the Puget Sound region in Washington State under
way. UrbanSim is undergoing significant redevelopment and extension in terms of its
underlying architecture, interface, and social goals. Under the direction of Borning,
Friedman, and Kahn, Value Sensitive Design is playing a central role in this endeavor.
UrbanSim illustrates important aspects of Value Sensitive Design in addition to those
described in the previous two case studies:
4.3.1 Distinguishing Explicitly Supported Values from Stakeholder Values. In their
conceptual investigations, Borning et al. distinguished between explicitly supported
values (i.e., ones that they explicitly want to embed in the simulation) and stakeholder
values (i.e., ones that are important to some but not necessarily all of the stakeholders).
Next, Borning et al. committed to three specific moral values to be supported explicitly.
One is fairness, and more specifically freedom from bias. The simulation should not
discriminate unfairly against any group of stakeholders, or privilege one mode of
transportation or policy over another. A second is accountability. Insofar as possible,
stakeholders should be able to confirm that their values are reflected in the simulation,
evaluate and judge its validity, and develop an appropriate level of confidence in its
output. The third is democracy. The simulation should support the democratic process in
the context of land use, transportation, and environmental planning. In turn, as part of
supporting the democratic process, Borning et al. decided that the model should not a
priori favor or rule out any given set of stakeholder values, but instead, should allow
different stakeholders to articulate the values that are most important to them, and
evaluate the alternatives in light of these values.
4.3.2 Handling Widely Divergent and Potentially Conflicting Stakeholder Values.
From the standpoint of conceptual investigations, UrbanSim as a design space poses
tremendous challenges. The research team cannot focus on a few key values, as occurred
in the Web Browser project (e.g., the value of informed consent), or the Room with a
View project (e.g., the values of privacy in public spaces, and physical and psychological
well-being). Rather, disputing stakeholders bring to the table widely divergent values
about environmental, political, moral, and personal issues. Examples of stakeholder
values are environmental sustainability, walkable neighborhoods, space for business
expansion, affordable housing, freight mobility, minimal government intervention,
minimal commute time, open space preservation, property rights, and environmental
justice. How does one characterize the wide-ranging and deeply held values of diverse
stakeholders, both present and future? Moreover, how does one prioritize the values
implicated in the decisions? And how can one move from values to measurable outputs
from the simulation to allow stakeholders to compare alternative scenarios?
As part of addressing these questions, the research group implemented a web-based
interface that groups indicators into three broad value categories pertaining to the domain
of urban development (economic, environmental, and social), and more specific value
categories under that. To allow stakeholders to evaluate alternative urban futures, the
interface provides a large collection of indicators: variables that distill some attribute of
interest about the results [Gallopin 1997]. (Examples of indicators are the number of
acres of rural land converted to urban use each year, the degree of poverty segregation, or
the mode share between autos and transit.) These categories and indicators draw on a
variety of sources, including empirical research on people’s environmental concepts and
values [Kahn 1999; Kahn and Kellert 2002], community-based indicator projects [Palmer
1998; Hart 1999], and the policy literature. Stakeholders can then use the interface to
select indicators that speak to values that are important to them from among these
This interface illustrates the interplay among conceptual, technical, and empirical
investigations. The indicators are chosen to speak to different stakeholder values –
responding to our distinction between explicitly supported values and stakeholder values
in the initial conceptual investigation. The value categories are rooted empirically in both
human psychology and policy studies, not just philosophy – and then embodied in a
technical artifact (the web-based interface), which is in turn evaluated empirically.
4.3.3 Technical Choices Driven by Initial and Emergent Value Considerations. Most
of the technical choices in the design of the UrbanSim software are in response to the
need to generate indicators and other evaluation measures that respond to different
strongly-held stakeholder values. For example, for some stakeholders, walkable,
pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are very important. But being able to model walking
as a transportation mode makes difficult demands on the underlying simulation, requiring
a finer-grained spatial scale than is needed for modeling automobile transportation alone.
In turn, being able to answer questions about walking as a transportation mode is
important for two explicitly supported values: fairness (not to privilege one transportation
mode over another), and democracy (being able to answer questions about a value that is
important to a significant number of stakeholders). As a second example of technical
choices being driven by value considerations, UrbanSim’s software architecture is
designed to support rapid evolution in response to changed or additional requirements.
For instance, the software architecture decouples the individual component models as
much as possible, allowing them to evolve and new ones to be added in a modular
fashion. Also, the system writes the simulation results into an SQL database, making it
easy to write queries that produce new indicators quickly and as needed, rather than
embedding the indicator computation code in the component models themselves. For
similar reasons, the UrbanSim team uses the YP agile software development
methodology [Freeman-Benson and Borning 2003], which allows the system to evolve
and respond quickly to emerging stakeholder values and policy considerations.
4.3.4 Designing for Credibility, Openness, and Accountability. Credibility of the
system is of great importance, particularly when the system is being used in a politically
charged situation and is thus the subject of intense scrutiny. The research group has
undertaken a variety of activities to help foster credibility, including using behaviorally
transparent simulation techniques (i.e., simulating agents in the urban environment, such
as households, businesses, and real estate developers, rather than using some more
abstract and opaque simulation technique), and performing sensitivity analyses [Franklin
et al. 2002] and a historical validation. In the historical validation, for example, the
group started the model with 1980 data from Eugene/Springfield, simulated through
1994, and compared the simulation output with what actually happened. One of these
comparisons is shown in Figure 3. In addition, our techniques for fostering openness and
accountability are also intended to support credibility. These include using Open Source
software (releasing the source code along with the executable), writing the code in as
clear and understandable a fashion as possible, using a rigorous and extensive testing
methodology, and complementing the Open Source software with an Open Process that
makes the state of our development visible to anyone interested. For example, in our
laboratory, a battery of tests is run whenever a new version of the software is committed
to the source code repository. A traffic light (a real one) is activated by the testing
regime – green means that the system has passed all tests, yellow means testing is under
way, and red means that a test has failed. There is also a virtual traffic light, mirroring
the physical one, visible on the web (www.urbansim.org/fireman). Similarly, the bug
reports, feature requests, and plans are all on the UrbanSim project website as well.
Details of this Open Process approach may be found in Freeman-Benson and Borning
Thus, in summary, Borning et al. are using Value Sensitive Design to investigate how
a technology – an integrated land use, transportation, and environmental computer
simulation – affects human values on both the individual and organizational levels; and
how human values can continue to drive the technical investigations, including refining
the simulation, data, and interaction model. Finally, employing Value Sensitive Design
in a project of this scope serves to validate its use for complex, large-scale systems.
5. VALUE SENSITIVE DESIGN’S CONSTELLATION OF FEATURES
Value Sensitive Design shares and adopts many interests and techniques from related
approaches to values and system design – computer ethics, social informatics, CSCW,
and Participatory Design – as discussed in Section 2.2. However, Value Sensitive Design
itself brings forward a unique constellation of eight features.
First, Value Sensitive Design seeks to be proactive: to influence the design of
technology early in and throughout the design process.
Second, Value Sensitive Design enlarges the arena in which values arise to include
not only the work place (as traditionally in the field of CSCW), but also education, the
home, commerce, online communities, and public life.
Third, Value Sensitive Design contributes a unique methodology that employs
conceptual, empirical, and technical investigations, applied iteratively and integratively
(see Section 3).
Fourth, Value Sensitive Design enlarges the scope of human values beyond those of
cooperation (CSCW) and participation and democracy (Participatory Design) to include
all values, especially those with moral import. By moral, we refer to issues that pertain to
fairness, justice, human welfare and virtue, encompassing within moral philosophical
theory deontology [Dworkin 1978; Gewirth 1978; Kant 1785/1964; Rawls 1971],
consequentialism ([Smart and Williams 1973]; see Scheffler  for an analysis), and
virtue [Foot 1978; MacIntyre 1984; Campbell and Christopher 1996]. Value Sensitive
Design also accounts for conventions (e.g., standardization of protocols) and personal
values (e.g., color preferences within a graphical user interface).
Fifth, Value Sensitive Design distinguishes between usability and human values with
ethical import. Usability refers to characteristics of a system that make it work in a
functional sense, including that it is easy to use, easy to learn, consistent, and recovers
easily from errors [Adler and Winograd 1992; Norman 1988; Nielsen 1993]. However,
not all highly usable systems support ethical values. Nielsen , for example, asks us
to imagine a computer system that checks for fraudulent applications of people who are
applying for unemployment benefits by asking applicants numerous personal questions,
and then checking for inconsistencies in their responses. Nielsen’s point is that even if
the system receives high usability scores some people may not find the system socially
acceptable, based on the moral value of privacy.
Sixth, Value Sensitive Design identifies and takes seriously two classes of
stakeholders: direct and indirect. Direct stakeholders refer to parties – individuals or
organizations – who interact directly with the computer system or its output. Indirect
stakeholders refer to all other parties who are affected by the use of the system. Often,
indirect stakeholders are ignored in the design process. For example, computerized
medical records systems have often been designed with many of the direct stakeholders
in mind (e.g., insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, and nurses), but with too little
regard for the values, such as the value of privacy, of a rather important group of indirect
stakeholders: the patients.
Seventh, Value Sensitive Design is an interactional theory: values are viewed neither
as inscribed into technology (an endogenous theory), nor as simply transmitted by social
forces (an exogenous theory). Rather, the interactional position holds that while the
features or properties that people design into technologies more readily support certain
values and hinder others, the technology’s actual use depends on the goals of the people
interacting with it. A screwdriver, after all, is well-suited for turning screws, and is also
amenable to use as a poker, pry bar, nail set, cutting device, and tool to dig up weeds, but
functions poorly as a ladle, pillow, or wheel. Similarly, an online calendar system that
displays individuals’ scheduled events in detail readily supports accountability within an
organization but makes privacy difficult. Moreover, through human interaction,
technology itself changes over time. On occasion, such changes (as emphasized in the
exogenous position) can mean the societal rejection of a technology, or that its
acceptance is delayed. But more often it entails an iterative process whereby
technologies are first invented, and then redesigned based on user interactions, which
then are reintroduced to users, further interactions occur, and further redesigns
implemented. Typical software updates (e.g., of word processors, browsers, and
operating systems) epitomize this iterative process.
Eighth, Value Sensitive Design builds from the psychological proposition that certain
values are universally held, although how such values play out in a particular culture at a
particular point in time can vary considerably [Kahn 1999; Turiel 1998, 2002]. For
example, even while living in an igloo, Inuits have conventions that ensure some forms of
privacy; yet such forms of privacy are not maintained by separated rooms, as they are in
most Western cultures. Generally, the more concretely (act-based) one conceptualizes a
value, the more one will be led to recognizing cultural variation; conversely, the more
abstractly one conceptualizes a value, the more one will be led to recognizing universals.
Value Sensitive Design seeks to work both levels, the concrete and abstract, depending
on the design problem at hand. Note that this is an empirical proposition, based on a
large amount of psychological and anthropological data, not a philosophical one. We
also make this claim only for certain values, not all – there are clearly some values that
The three case studies presented in Section 5 illustrate the different features in this
constellation. For example, UrbanSim illustrates the goal of being proactive and
influencing the design of the technology early in and throughout the design process
(Feature 1), and also involves enlarging the arena in which values arise to include urban
planning and democratic participation in public decision-making (Feature 2). The
cookies work is a good illustration of Value Sensitive Design’s tripartite methodology
(Feature 3): conceptual, technical, and empirical investigations, applied iteratively and
integratively, were essential to the success of the project. Each of the three projects
brings out a different set of human values (Feature 4): among others, informed consent
for the cookies work; physical and psychological well-being and privacy in public spaces
for Room with a View; and fairness, accountability, and democracy for UrbanSim, as
well as the whole range of different sometimes competing stakeholder values. The
cookies project illustrates the complex interaction between usability and human values
(Feature 5): early versions of the system supported informed consent at the expense of
usability, requiring additional work to develop a system that was both usable and
provided reasonable support for informed consent. The Room with a View work
considers and takes seriously both direct and indirect stakeholders (Feature 6): the
occupants of the inside office (“The Watchers”), and passers-by in the plaza (“The
Watched”). Value Sensitive Design’s position that values are neither inscribed into
technology nor simply transmitted by social forces (Feature 7) is illustrated by UrbanSim:
the system by itself is certainly not neutral with respect to democratic process, but at the
same time does not on its own ensure democratic decision-making on land use and
transportation issues. Finally, the proposition that certain values are universally held, but
play out in very different ways in different cultures and different times (Feature 8) is
illustrated by the Room with a View project: the work is informed by a substantial body
of work on the importance of privacy in all cultures (for example, the deep connection
between privacy and self-identity), but concerns about privacy in public spaces play out
in a specific way in the United States, and might do so quite differently in another
We could draw out additional examples that illustrate Value Sensitive Design’s
constellation of features, both from the three case studies presented in Section 5, and in
other projects; but hope that this short description demonstrates the unique contribution
that Value Sensitive Design can make to the design of technology.
6. PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR USING VALUE SENSITIVE DESIGN
One natural question with Value Sensitive Design is, “How exactly do I do it?” In this
section we offer some practical suggestions.
6.1. Start With a Value, Technology, or Context of Use
Any of these three core aspects – a value, technology, or context of use – easily motivates
Value Sensitive Design. We suggest starting with the aspect that is most central to your
work and interests. In the case of Informed Consent and Cookies, for example, Friedman
et al. began with a value of central interest (informed consent) and moved from that value
to its implications for Web browser design. In the case of UrbanSim, Borning et al.
began with a technology (urban simulation) and a context of use (the urban planning
process); upon inspection of those two, values issues quickly came to the fore.
6.2. Identify Direct and Indirect Stakeholders
As part of the initial conceptual investigation, systematically identify direct and indirect
stakeholders. Recall that direct stakeholders are those individuals who interact directly
with the technology or with the technology’s output. Indirect stakeholders are those
individuals who are also impacted by the system, though they never interact directly with
it. In addition, it is worthwhile to recognize the following:
• Within each of these two overarching categories of stakeholders, there may be several
• A single individual may be a member of more than one stakeholder group or
subgroup. For example, in the UrbanSim project, an individual who works as an
urban planner and lives in the area is both a direct stakeholder (i.e., through his or her
direct use of the simulation to evaluate proposed transportation plans) and an indirect
stakeholder (i.e., by virtue of living in the community for which the transportation
plans will be implemented).
• An organizational power structure is often orthogonal to the distinction between direct
and indirect stakeholders. For example, there might be low-level employees who are
either direct or indirect stakeholders and who don’t have control over using the
system (e.g., workers on an assembly line). Participatory Design has contributed a
substantial body of analysis to these issues, as well as techniques for dealing with
them, such as ways of equalizing power among groups with unequal power. (See the
references cited in Section 2.1.)
6.3. Identify Benefits and Harms for Each Stakeholder Group
Having identified the key stakeholders, systematically identify the benefits and harms for
each group. In doing so, we suggest attention to the following points:
• Indirect stakeholders will be benefited or harmed to varying degrees; and in some
designs it is probably possible to claim every human as an indirect stakeholder of
some sort. Thus, one rule of thumb in the conceptual investigation is to give priority
to indirect stakeholders who are strongly affected, or to large groups that are
• Attend to issues of technical, cognitive, and physical competency. For example,
children or the elderly might have limited cognitive competency. In such a case, care
must be taken to ensure that their interests are represented in the design process,
either by representatives from the affected groups themselves or, if this is not
possible, by advocates.
• Personas [Pruitt and Grudin 2003] are a popular technique that can be useful for
identifying the benefits and harms to each stakeholder group. However, we note two
caveats. First, personas have a tendency to lead to stereotypes because they require a
list of “socially coherent” attributes to be associated with the “imagined individual.”
Second, while in the literature each persona represents a different user group, in
Value Sensitive Design (as noted above) the same individual may be a member of
more than one stakeholder group. Thus, in our practice, we have deviated from the
typical use of personas that maps a single persona onto a single user group, to allow
for a single persona to map onto to multiple stakeholder groups.
6.4. Map Benefits and Harms onto Corresponding Values
With a list of benefits and harms in hand, one is in a strong position to recognize
corresponding values. Sometimes the mapping is one of identity. For example, a harm
that is characterized as invasion of privacy maps onto the value of privacy. Other times
the mapping is less direct if not multifaceted. For example, with the Room with a View
study, it is possible that a direct stakeholder’s mood is improved when working in an
office with an augmented window (as compared with no window). Such a benefit
potentially implicates not only the value of psychological welfare, but also creativity,
productivity, and physical welfare (health), assuming there is a causal link between
improved mood and these other factors.
In some cases, the corresponding values will be obvious, but not always. Table 1 in
Section 5.8 provides a table of human values with ethical import often implicated in
system design. This table may be useful in suggesting values that should be considered
in the investigation.
6.5. Conduct a Conceptual Investigation of Key Values
Following the identification of key values in play, a conceptual investigation of each can
follow. Here it is helpful to turn to the relevant literature. In particular, the philosophical
ontological literature can help provide criteria for what a value is, and thereby how to
assess it empirically. (For example, Section 4.1.1 described how existing literature
helped provide criteria for the value of informed consent.)
6.6. Identify Potential Value Conflicts
Values often come into conflict. Thus, once key values have been identified and
carefully defined, a next step entails examining potential conflicts. For the purposes of
design, value conflicts should usually not be conceived of as “either/or” situations, but as
constraints on the design space. Admittedly, at times designs that support one value
directly hinder support for another. In those instances, a good deal of discussion among
the stakeholders may be warranted to identify the space of workable solutions. Typical
value conflicts include accountability vs. privacy, trust vs. security, environmental
sustainability vs. economic development, privacy vs. security, and hierarchical control vs.
6.7. Integrate Value Considerations Into One’s Organizational Structure
Ideally, Value Sensitive Design will work in concert with organizational objectives.
Within a company, for example, designers would bring values into the forefront, and in
the process generate increased revenue, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and
other desirable outcomes for their companies. In turn, within a government agency,
designers would both better support national and community values, and enhance the
organization’s ability to achieve its objectives. In the real world, of course, human values
(especially those with ethical import) may collide with economic objectives, power, and
other factors. However, even in such situations, Value Sensitive Design should be able to
make positive contributions, by showing alternate designs that better support enduring
human values. For example, if a standards committee were considering adopting a
protocol that raised serious privacy concerns, a Value Sensitive Design analysis and
design might result in an alternate protocol that better addressed the issue of privacy
while still retaining other needed properties. Citizens, advocacy groups, staff members,
politicians, and others could then have a more effective argument against a claim that the
proposed protocol was the only reasonable choice.
6.8. Human Values (with Ethical Import) Often Implicated in System Design
We stated earlier that while all values fall within its purview, Value Sensitive Design
emphasizes values with ethical import. In Table 1, we present a list of frequently
implicated values. This table is intended as a heuristic for suggesting values that should
be considered in the investigation – it is definitely not intended as a complete list of
human values that might be implicated.
Table 1. Human Values (with Ethical Import) Often Implicated in System Design
Definition Sample Literature
Human Welfare Refers to people’s physical, material,
and psychological well-being Leveson ; Friedman, Kahn,
& Hagman ; Neumann
; Turiel [1983, 1998]
Property Refers to a right to possess an object
(or information), use it, manage it,
derive income from it, and bequeath
Becker ; Friedman
[1997b]; Herskovits ;
Lipinski & Britz 
Privacy Refers to a claim, an entitlement, or a
right of an individual to determine
what information about himself or
herself can be communicated to
Agre and Rotenberg ;
Bellotti ; Boyle, Edwards,
& Greenberg ; Friedman
[1997b]; Fuchs ; Jancke,
Venolia, Grudin, Cadiz, and
Gupta ; Palen & Dourish
; Nissenbaum ;
Phillips ; Schoeman
; Svensson, Hook,
Laaksolahti, & Waern 
Bias Refers to systematic unfairness
perpetrated on individuals or groups,
including pre-existing social bias,
technical bias, and emergent social
Friedman & Nissenbaum ;
cf. Nass & Gong ; Reeves
& Nass 
Usability Refers to making all people
successful users of information
Aberg & Shahmehri ;
Shneiderman [1999, 2000];
Cooper & Rejmer ; Jacko,
Dixon, Rosa, Scott, & Pappas
; Stephanidis 
Trust Refers to expectations that exist
between people who can experience
good will, extend good will toward
others, feel vulnerable, and
Baier ; Camp ;
Dieberger, Hook, Svensson, &
Lonnqvist ; Egger ;
Fogg & Tseng ; Friedman,
Kahn, & Howe ; Kahn &
uriel ; Mayer, Davis, &
Schoorman ; Olson &
Olson ; Nissenbaum
; Rocco 
Autonomy Refers to people’s ability to decide,
plan, and act in ways that they believe
will help them to achieve their goals
Friedman & Nissenbaum ;
Hill ; Isaacs, Tang, &
Morris ; Suchman ;
Informed Consent Refers to garnering people’s
agreement, encompassing criteria of
disclosure and comprehension (for
“informed”) and voluntariness,
competence, and agreement (for
Faden & Beauchamp ;
Friedman, Millett, & Felten
; The Belmont Report
Accountability Refers to the properties that ensures
that the actions of a person, people, or
institution may be traced uniquely to
the person, people, or institution
Friedman & Kahn ;
Friedman & Millet ;
Reeves & Nass 
Courtesy Refers to treating people with
politeness and consideration Bennett & Delatree ;
Wynne & Ryan 
Identity Refers to people’s understanding of
who they are over time, embracing
both continuity and discontinuity over
Bers, Gonzalo-Heydrich, &
DeMaso ; Rosenberg
; Schiano & White ;
Calmness Refers to a peaceful and composed
psychological state Friedman & Kahn ; Weiser
& Brown 
Sustainability Refers to sustaining ecosystems such
that they meet the needs of the
present without compromising future
United Nations ; World
Commission on Environment and
Development ; Hart
; Moldan, Billharz, &
Matravers ; Northwest
Environment Watch 
Two caveats. First, not all of these values are fundamentally distinct from one another.
Nonetheless, each value has its own language and conceptualizations within its respective
field, and thus warrants separate treatment here. Second, as noted above, this list is not
comprehensive. Perhaps no list could be, at least within the confines of a paper.
Peacefulness, respect, compassion, love, warmth, creativity, humor, originality, vision,
friendship, cooperation, collaboration, purposefulness, devotion, loyalty, diplomacy,
kindness, musicality, harmony – the list of other possible moral and non-moral values
could get very long very quickly. Our particular list comprises many of the values that
hinge on the deontological and consequentialist moral orientations noted above: human
welfare, ownership and property, privacy, freedom from bias, universal usability, trust,
autonomy, informed consent, and accountability. In addition, we have chosen several
other values related to system design: courtesy, identity, calmness, and environmental
6.9. Heuristics for Interviewing Stakeholders
As part of an empirical investigation, it is useful to interview stakeholders, to better
understand their judgments about a context of use, an existing technology, or a proposed
design. A semi-structured interview often offers a good balance between addressing the
questions of interest and gathering new and unexpected insights. In these interviews, the
following heuristics can prove useful:
• In probing stakeholders’ reasons for their judgments, the simple question “Why?” can
go a good distance. For example, seniors evaluating a ubiquitous computing video
surveillance system might respond negatively to the system. When asked “Why?” a
response might be: “I don’t mind my family knowing that other people are visiting
me, so they don’t worry that I’m alone – I just don’t want them to know who is
visiting.” The researcher can probe again: “Why don’t you want them to know?” An
answer might be: “I might have a new friend I don’t want them to know about. It’s
not their business.” Here the first “why” question elicits information about a value
conflict (the family’s desire to know about the senior’s well-being and the senior’s
desire to control some information); the second “why” question elicits further
information about the value of privacy for the senior.
• Ask about values not only directly, but indirectly, based on formal criteria specified in
the conceptual investigation. For example, suppose that you want to conduct an
empirical investigation of people’s reasoning and values about “X” (say, trust,
privacy, or informed consent), and that you decided to employ an interview
methodology. One option is to ask people directly about the topic. “What is X?”
“How do you reason about X?” “Can you give me an example from your own life of
when you encountered a problem that involved X?” There is some merit to this direct
approach. Certainly it gives people the opportunity to define the problem in their own
terms. But you may quickly discover that it comes up short. Perhaps the greatest
problem is that people have concepts about many aspects of the topic on which they
cannot directly reflect. Rather, you will usually be better served by employing an
alternative approach. As is common in social cognitive research (see Kahn ,
chap. 5, for a discussion of methods), you could interview people about a hypothetical
situation, or a common everyday event in their lives, or a task that you have asked
them to solve, or a behavior in which they have just engaged. But, no matter what
you choose, the important point is a priori to conceptualize what the topic entails, if
possible demarcating its boundaries through formal criteria, and at a minimum
employing issues or tasks that engage people’s reasoning about the topic under
6.10. Heuristics for Technical Investigations
When engaging in value-oriented technical investigations, the following heuristics can
• Technical mechanisms will often adjudicate multiple if not conflicting values, often in
the form of design trade-offs. We have found it helpful to make explicit how a design
trade-off maps onto a value conflict and differentially affects different groups of
stakeholders. For example, the Room with a View study suggests real-time displays
in interior offices may provide physiological benefits for those in the inside offices
(the direct stakeholders), yet may impinge on the privacy and security of those
walking through the outdoor scene (the indirect stakeholders), and especially women.
• Unanticipated values and value conflicts often emerge after a system is developed and
deployed. Thus, when possible, design flexibility into the underlying technical
architecture so that it can be responsive to such emergent concerns. In UrbanSim, for
example, Borning et al. used agile programming techniques to design an architecture
that can more readily accommodate new indicators and models.
• The control of information flow through underlying protocols – and the privacy
concerns surrounding such control – is a strongly contested area. Ubiquitous
computing, with sensors that collect and then disseminate information at large, has
only intensified these concerns. We suggest that underlying protocols that release
information should be able to be turned off (and in such a way that the stakeholders
are confident they have been turned off).
There is a growing interest and challenge to address values in design. Our goal in this
paper has been to provide enough detail about Value Sensitive Design so that other
researchers and designers can critically examine, use, and extend this approach. Our
hope is that this approach can contribute to a principled and comprehensive consideration
of values in the design of information and computational systems.
Value Sensitive Design has emerged over the past decade and benefited from discussions
with many people. We would like particularly to acknowledge all the members of our
respective research groups, along with Edward Felten, Jonathan Grudin, Sara Kiesler,
Clifford Nass, Helen Nissenbaum, John Thomas, and Terry Winograd. This research was
supported in part by NSF Awards IIS-9911185, IIS-0325035, EIA-0121326, and EIA-
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