Applying Value-sensitive Design Principles to Support Organizational Culture

Often we think of organizational values as those all too common corporate value statements consisting of feel-good platitudes that are merely given lip service by business management. These types of “values” lack actionable items that would assist leaders or individual contributors in supporting a meaningful core intent and culture for their organizations.

In recent years, a theory has emerged in the HCI and Information science community called value-sensitive design. Using these design principles, UX professionals could help guide a conversation about values as part of business strategy, using value-sensitive methods to assist in framing organizational purpose.

“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”

-Friedman, Kahn, & Borning (2007)

In Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems, Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Alan Borning outline steps for practitioners to apply value-sensitive design as an organizational and design strategy. I have provided a short synopsis of each step, and how it can be enacted by UX practitioners.

1. Start With a Value, Technology, or Context of Use
For organizational values, any one of these could be touchstones, but particularly context. Thinking about context will help uncover the correct values to focus on – whether it be privacy, sustainability, trust or some other human, ethical, or moral value.

2. Identify Direct and Indirect Stakeholders
Direct stakeholders are easy to identify. Thinking about those indirectly affected by an organizational or design strategy will present additional pertinent values.

3. Identify Benefits and Harms for Each Stakeholder Group
This is an exercise that can be done successfully in a group setting using a whiteboard. Facilitating the communication of benefits and harms will begin a dialog about what values are meaningful within a given group. Personas may be used to identify different stakeholder groups. Friedman, et al. suggest not exclusively asking stakeholders direct, explicit questions about values. Often implicit beliefs can be reached by using hypothetical situations, asking for descriptions of tasks or behaviors, or thinking aloud about common everyday events – many of the same methods we already use to engage people’s reasoning when doing qualitative UX research.

4. Map Benefits and Harms onto Corresponding Values
Once benefits and harms have been identified, map them to values. For instance, a value of transparency could be a benefit of an open office system, while harming the value of productivity.

5. Identify Potential Value Conflicts
According to the authors, examples of “typical value conflicts include accountability vs. privacy, trust vs. security, environmental sustainability vs. economic development, privacy vs. security, and hierarchical control vs. democratization.” Value conflicts are opportunities for constraints to catalyze innovation.

6. Integrate Value Considerations Into One’s Organizational Structure
Once the preceding steps have been completed, a strong, meaningful set of values will have surfaced, which can be applied organizationally, to a specific initiative, or to a design strategy.

UX professionals have a unique skill set to offer in helping accomplish the establishment of thoughtful, relevant values. The above outlined steps taken from the value-sensitive design literature provide a framework for reaching this goal.

Resources

Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn, and Alan Borning, Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems.

Lisa P. Nathan, Predrag V. Klasnja, and Batya Friedman, Value Scenarios: A Technique for Envisioning Systemic Effects of New Technologies.

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