Can a Software Reflect Values of Under-represented Users?
Author: Rifat Ara Shams (@swarna601)
Associate Editor: Muneera Bano (@DrMuneeraBano)
Software is ubiquitous in all aspects of daily life, therefore it gives rise to the need to account for human values in software. However, existing Software Engineering (SE) techniques have paid less attention to deal with the human values which are reflected frequently in incidents of value breaches. A recent example of the value breach of software was the news, “Instagram removes ad company after data grab” that got huge media coverage. Similarly, there are various other examples such as the collapse of Facebook's share price due to Cambridge Analytica scandal, resignation of Volkswagen CEO, a 30% drop in the company’s stock price and a 25% drop in sales within a year for the recent issue of installing a deceptively designed software to fool fuel emission tests in Volkswagen emissions fiasco. There are also a few incidents reported about value breaches in mobile apps. For example, a ride-sharing app in Bangladesh named Pathao accessed its users’ contact lists and SMS without taking their permission for a business purpose. As a result, Pathao had to face humiliation and loss of profit which resulted in sacking 300 employees within a day without any prior notice. These value breaches cause users’ dissatisfaction and contribute to negative socio-economic impacts.
Human values are getting less attention from the software engineering research community. In our research, we classified 1350 papers at four top-tier SE journals and conferences (ICSE, FSE, TOSEM and TSE) from 2015-2018 to investigate the prevalence of human values in SE and found that only 16% (216) of the papers are directly relevant to human values . There is a need to understand what human values are and how they can be incorporated into the software.
What are Human Values?
According to literature, values have “importance to you, as guiding principles in your life”. Values are the reflection of people’s personal and social preferences . Social scientists have been researching basic human values to conceptualize those since 1950 .
In our research, we used Schwartz theory, which is the highly cited and widely applied classification, not just in the social sciences but also in other disciplines. In 1992, Schwartz divided values into ten main categories based on their motivational goals and 58 value items by which the main values are measured as shown in Figure 1. Values located close to each other are congruent and further apart are opposite in nature .
How to Consider Values in Software?
The first step to consider human values in software is awareness. Though the importance of including human values in software is significant, it is largely ignored in software engineering due to the lack of a clear definition . This necessitates a concrete definition of human values in SE. Furthermore, there is a need for proper guidelines, tools, and techniques for integrating human values in SE.
Case Study in Bangladesh
We are conducting a case study with the marginalized people in rural Bangladesh with the aim to ensure sustainable use of technology. We are currently exploring the values of female farmers in rural Bangladesh and to what extent the existing agriculture apps reflect their values. To discover their values, we will utilise a well-known value measurement instrument proposed by Schwartz, Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ) . In this method, short text portraits of different people, gender-matched with the respondents, are created. Each portrait describes a person’s goals, aspirations and wishes that implicitly reflect the importance of value for that person. We believe, there is a potential in this research to create awareness in SE researcher to consider human values and to provide a reference point to replicate or repeat similar relevant research in collaboration with practitioners and other community stakeholders.
 Perera, H., Nurwidyantoro, A., Hussain, W., Mougouei, D., Whittle, J., Shams, R. A., & Oliver, G. (2019). A Study on the Prevalence of Human Values in Software Engineering Publications, 2015-2018. arXiv preprint arXiv:1907.07874.
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 Shalom H Schwartz. Basic human values: Theory, methods, and application. Risorsa Uomo, 2007.
 Shalom H Schwartz. An overview of the schwartz theory of basic values. Online readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1):11, 2012.
 Davoud Mougouei, Harsha Perera, Waqar Hussain, Rifat Shams, and Jon Whittle. Operationalizing human values in software: a research roadmap. In Proceedings of the 2018 26th ACM Joint Meeting on European Software Engineering Conference and Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering, pages 780–784. ACM, 2018.