Next Steps for Value Sensitive Design

Alan Borning and Michael Muller. 2012. Next steps for value sensitive design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’12). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1125–1134. DOI:


Borning and Muller engage in a critique of Value Sensitive Design (VSD), proposed by Friedman, Kahn Jr., and Borning between 2003 and 2006. In particular, they critique VSD for overclaiming by being too "broad and oversweeping" (pg. 1). They critique (1) the notion of universal values; (2) the suggested completeness of value lists; (3) the lack of focus on participant voices; and (4) the lack of reflexivity on the part of researchers. They engage in these critiques to position VSD as beneficial to its adoption in research moving forward.

Key Concepts

Universal vs. Culturally Specific Values

Borning and Muller argue that the debate about universal values has been ongoing in philosophy for milenia. They argue that VSD's adoption that some values are universal, though may be practiced in culturally-specific, ways, is problematic given (1) the unanswered philosophical debate around universality and (2) the belief of universal values having historically led some groups and cultures to believe themselves superior.

Borning and Muller suggest VSD take a "pluralistic position" and state universality is contested and VSD cannot claim to have the answer. They also propose that universal vs. cultural value positions have little affected on most design projects.

Determining What Values Matter

Borning and Muller question how to determine whose values matter, and critique the presentation of seemingly universal and complete value lists in VSD. They suggest contextualizing the value lists originally published in VSD papers to explicitly state their position as typical liberal and Western values. They note that heuristic lists could bias researchers towards analyzing only the values listed. They also ask whether VSD should commit to specific values, much like participatory design (PD) has committed to participation and democracy and action research has committed to emancipation.

Not Speaking on Behalf of Participants

The authors suggest VSD explicitly adopt PD committments to co-design with participants, adopting data collection and reporting practices that strive to elevate participant voices.

Researcher Reflexivity

Given values do not have objective answers and are highly informed by one's experiences, the authors suggest VSD adopt "standpoint" practices. In other words, VSD should encourage researchers to describe their own personal values and the values supported in the project by key stakeholders and funders.

Further Reading