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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R009600/1
Title: Values First Software Engineering
Principal Investigator: Ferrario, Dr MFC
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Cleanweb UK IRISA Rennes Monash University
University of Toronto Vienna University of Technology Zuhlke Engineering Ltd
Department: Computing & Communications
Organisation: Lancaster University
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 January 2018 Ends: 31 December 2019 Value (£): 101,025
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Human-Computer Interactions Software Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
19 Jul 2017 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel July 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form

Values are deeply held principles guiding decision-making processes of individuals, groups and organizations. Software is inevitably affected by values: the organizational values of the project sponsor, research partners, and developers. Some values (e.g. financial value) are easier to quantify than others (e.g. trust, responsibility) with the latter often dismissed in software production processes as lacking of measurable evidence. This is problematic because all values, including less-easy to measure ones, influence how people use, access and engage with software systems with far-reaching impact not only on the commercial success of software products, but more widely on society.


Values-First SE is a systematic and disciplined approach to the elicitation, articulation, and deliberation of human values in software production. Given the pervasiveness of software and its impact on society, we - developers, researchers, clients, and end-user - must strengthen our capacity and confidence to externalise the values-sets built into software and use them to track how software behaves. Recent examples such as the Google boycott stem from the (often unintentional) breach of implicitly held values-systems: simply put, companies do not want to be associated with extremist values perceived as opposite to those held by society. However, the interplay between values held by software industry (e.g. prestige, social responsibility), clients (e.g. financial, care for their customers and employees), and end-users (e.g. trust, social justice) is complex, difficult to articulate and rarely fully captured by current SE decision-making processes.


Awareness of the impact of software on politics, society, and the environment is not new: from cyber-security to environmental informatics, to digital-health, a large body of ethical computing exists looking at mechanisms that can guide developers and managers' responsibilities (e.g. code of Ethics). What is new is the unprecedented scale, reach and complexity of such impact and the urgency for developers to "be prepared to be responsible".

One of the biggest challenges for developers is that the full impact of values choices in the code developed is often unseen and unintentional: when writing software, often the platform obfuscates the process even to the software developer. How can software developers be prepared to be responsible when it is not clear what they should be responsible for? For example, in the Android Software Development Kit (SDK), the geocoding of location is done by sharing of precise location with a third party organization (including Google). The implications of sharing this data, how it is stored, treated and reused is not fully explained to the developer in tutorials, in the SDK documentation or in the IDE at the time of writing the code.

Those simple lines of code for the developer could have an unseen impact on the encoded values of the software produced. However, current SE methods do not seem to provide the means to follow values through a software development process and, in particular, there are currently no methods that allow values to be used as a reference framework for decision making at key stages of software development. Articulating, negotiating, and capturing human values across SE decision-making processes is precisely Values-first SE main aim.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.lancs.ac.uk