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From Value- to Norm-sensitive Design? An Empirical and Intercultural Framework

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

DEED Technical Session 11 Empathy and Human-Centered Design 2

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Paper Authors


Rockwell Clancy Colorado School of Mines

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Rockwell F. Clancy conducts research and teaches courses at the intersection of moral psychology, technology ethics, and Chinese philosophy. He explores how education and culture affect moral judgments, the causes of unethical behaviors, and what can be done to ensure more ethical behaviors regarding technology. Central to his work are insights from and methodologies associated with the psychological sciences and digital humanities.

Rockwell is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines and Guest Researcher in the Department of Values, Technology, and Innovation, at Delft University of Technology. In the Fall, he'll become a Research Scientist in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Before Mines Rockwell was a Lecturer at Delft, and previously an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute and Research Fellow in the Institute of Social Cognition and Decision-making, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He completed his PhD iat Purdue University in 2012, and worked as a long-term educational to set up a course and write a corresponding textbook on global engineering ethics for a grant project at Purdue.

His research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of moral psychology, engineering and technology ethics, and Chinese philosophy. His papers have appeared in Nature Human Behaviour, Science and Engineering Ethics, International Journal of Ethics Education, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, New Directions in Children & Adolescent Psychology, Philosophy and Literature, the Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, Modernity/modernism, Metapsychology Online Reviews, and the Journal of Philosophy.

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Qin Zhu Colorado School of Mines

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​Dr. Zhu is Assistant Professor of Ethics and Engineering Education in the Department of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Engineering, Design & Society and the Robotics Graduate Program at the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Zhu is Editor for International Perspectives at the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science, Associate Editor for Engineering Studies, Chair of American Society for Engineering Education's Division of Engineering Ethics, and Executive Committee Member of the International Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum. Dr. Zhu's research interests include the cultural foundations of engineering (ethics) education, global engineering education, and ethics and policy of computing technologies and robotics.

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Diana Martin Eindhoven University of Technology

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Diana Adela Martin is a postdoctoral researcher at TU Eindhoven. Her areas of expertise are ethics, responsibility and accreditation in engineering education. Diana has experience as a social entrepreneur (2008-2016), having founded in Romania the educational NGO Link Education and Practice, with projects focused on graduate employability and enhancing academia-private sector cooperation. Diana is active in the working group on ethics of SEFI - The European Society for Engineering Education and is the 2022-2026 Europe board member of REEN

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Gunter Bombaerts

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Value-sensitive design (VSD) has helped to introduce non-technical concerns into engineering projects, where different, sometimes competing stakeholder goods are considered and addressed. Given the increasingly global environments of contemporary engineering, it might appear as though such frameworks would be useful in addressing cross- and inter-cultural concerns in engineering, where different, sometimes competing cultural values can come into conflict. This paper will argue such approaches are limited, since research in moral and cultural psychology demonstrates that values alone fail to do the normative and empirical work VSD suppose they do.

Values are typically conceived as long-standing beliefs or ideas, about which states are worth pursuing, that guide behaviors. Normatively, VSD approaches say nothing about which values should be pursued/implemented: Values aim at preferred states, but simply because some states are preferred says nothing about whether they should be preferred, whether/why they are worth pursuing. Empirically, values are not especially good at picking out cultural groups, and they fail to predict behaviors across cultures: For example, according to the Schwartz value scale, values of mainland Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Singaporean Chinese – typically considered part of the same cultural group – are closer to those of people in Zimbabwe, Israel, and Malaysia, respectively, than they are to each other; the power of values to predict behaviors varies by culture, where the values of non-WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic) groups say very little about how they will behave. Instead, global approaches to engineering should turn to what we call “norm-sensitive design” (NSD).

Norms are intrinsically motivating rules, about which types of behaviors are obligatory or prohibited, which are propagated, enforced, and internalized through sanctioning systems. Although norms are typically conceived as following from values, this relation only make sense from the perspective of WEIRD cultures, where personal preferences are closely linked to individual behaviors. Unlike values, norms/norm systems are directly concerned with behaviors by nature and, therefore, affect the world. They have evolved, affecting behaviors that facilitate the universally human problem of large-scale, anonymous cooperation. This commonly human concern provides a touchstone in terms of which to understand and address different, conflicting norms. Normatively, all such systems address the same ultimate concern, although they do so in different ways, addressing specific circumstances related to differing climates, resources, and histories throughout their evolution. This framework could help to facilitate largescale human cooperation, a goal of global engineering. Empirically, norms/norm systems would be better indicators of cultural groups, helping to understand and potentially overcome cultural disagreements. As a result, NSD would have implications for engineering design and practice, not only embodying diverse values in technology, but also cultivating consensus through common behaviors with engineering.

Clancy, R., & Zhu, Q., & Martin, D., & Bombaerts, G. (2022, August), From Value- to Norm-sensitive Design? An Empirical and Intercultural Framework Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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