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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. https://peer.asee.org/40810
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