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Value hierarchy: translating the values of tada into practice

Interview with dr. Ir. Ibo van de Poel, professor of ethics and technology at Delft University of Technology

The promises of the use of data and new technologies are great; our cities are becoming greener and more livable, health care more effective and education more accessible. But what happens to the available data now that more and more traffic is flowing online? Who develops the algorithms and who is ultimately responsible? The manifesto ‘Tada – Clear about data’ contains values that should apply in digitally responsible cities. In this interview, we will examine one of those values together with an expert.

Two values clashed with the construction of the Oosterscheldekering in Zeeland: safety and environmental preservation. Initially, a dam would completely close off the Oosterschelde to protect the land behind it against high water. Fishermen, water sports enthusiasts and environmental organizations objected because the saltwater ecosystem would disappear. Engineers made the world-famous new design of a semi-open storm surge barrier that is only closed during severe weather. Zeeland was safe and the Oosterschelde remained salty.

Ibo van de Poel cited this example during his online mini-lecture on value hierarchy. The meeting took place on December 3, 2020 and was hosted by the Responsible Sensing Lab , a collaboration between AMS Institute and the City of Amsterdam. During the lecture, theory was linked to practice: value hierarchy is a method of translating abstract values into concrete design requirements. This method can sometimes even help to unify seemingly conflicting values in your design.

Value-conscious design

Van de Poel does research value-conscious design ( Value Senstive Design ). Ethical values are systematically included in every step of the technology design process. In the lecture, Van de Poel addressed the question of how the six Tada values can be applied in practice. Due to corona, the approximately 25 participants met online.

Van de Poel mentioned three steps in value-conscious design. First, you map out the stakeholders and their values. As an example in the lecture, the scan car was cited that checks for parking errors. Who are the stakeholders and groups affected by the technology? And which values do those groups consider important? The second step is conceptual: what do we mean by those values? That is not unambiguous. You may find that the privacy value is met if a user gives informed consent to data collection. But you can also explain it more strictly and state that as little data as possible should be collected. The third step in value-conscious design is to translate the values into the technical design.

As a tool for making the translation to technical design, Van de Poel introduced in 2013 the value hierarchy system . The hierarchy consists of three layers: values, norms and design requirements. The values are at the top of the pyramid. These are too abstract to apply directly in a technological design. That is why you translate values into standards. Standards consist of regulations and restrictions that guide our actions. The design requirements are the most concrete layer of the hierarchy. Van de Poel illustrated this with an example from the poultry industry. The value ‘animal welfare’ is included in the development of a battery cages system. Studying chickens in their natural habitat has been known to enjoy walking around. The value of animal welfare is translated into the standard: ‘sufficient living space’. The concrete design requirement for the battery cage system is then that 1100 cm2 of space must be available per chicken.

Tada values

After the general introduction to the value hierarchy, Van de Poel and the participants discussed the six Tada values for a responsible digital city. “The values are a good starting point because they cover a lot,” said Van de Poel. “But there is a great focus on data. It is good to realize that other values can also apply to a smart city. Consider sustainability, for example. ” It is therefore good to consider the values per project. Depending on the context or the technology you want to develop, it may prove necessary to add other values, says Van de Poel.

Living document with translations

The process of arriving at those values can be organized in different ways. You can invite representatives of all interest groups to determine the values together. From the perspective of the Tada values ‘control’ and ‘inclusive’, this would be obvious. But a disadvantage can be that this is a labor-intensive process. You can also think about values with a smaller group and their translation into standards and design requirements. If you record that process properly, you provide transparency about the process. That way you can account for the decisions made. One of the participants came up with the idea of keeping a living document online. The translations to standards and requirements of the Tada values can be recorded there. In this way, a growing number of people contribute to translating the values.

Uniting opposite values

Van de Poel pointed out the difference between intrinsic and instrumental values. The former are valuable for their own sake such as human well-being, beauty and the truth. Instrumental values are valuable because of something outside of themselves such as cost effectiveness and reliability. One of the participants elaborated on this. The Tada platform wants to contribute to more responsible products being purchased. One obstacle is that ethical technology is not necessarily cheaper or more efficient. That doesn’t make it obvious from a business perspective to invest in ethical products. One answer could lie in thinking not only about intrinsic but also about instrumental values.

Van de Poel agreed: “Value hierarchy tries to include all kinds of values. The interesting idea behind value-conscious design is that a product can fulfill seemingly contradictory values. Therefore, you should not try to avoid conflicting demands. Conflicts can lead to new insights. Consciously thinking about values can lead to new solutions. The most important skill of a designer is to bring opposites together in a design. By bridging differences, you can arrive at a new type of product. ” Such as a flood defense that is not only safe but also ecologically sound. A solution that, like Ibo van de Poel, came from TU Delft.

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