The Volkswagen Scandal: Values and Software Development

In 2015 it was revealed that Volkswagen had deliberately cheated with environmental tests, and that their engines did not fulfil the requirement of pollution. This was indeed a big scandal! But one can wonder how it could happen that such a well reputed company makes such bad and unethical decisions? The presentation that I listened to at the Human Centred Software Engineering conference did not give an answer to this question, but instead talked about what we should do in software development to ensure that these things do not happen. The paper is called: “Do you own a Volkswagen? Values as Non-Functional Requirements”

Friedman’s ideas of Value sensitive design has been around since the 1990’s, and the idea behind it is really good. We should be aware of our values and incorporate them in systems development. Cockton has also made some contributions in the field of value, but he looks more at the value perceived by customers than the value of the systems developers. I also worked some with values as my first area of research, and did my licentiate degree on Values and Perspectives Affecting IT Systems Development and Usability work. My focus was on what values are at the core of the decisions made in companies when it comes to software development. Not surprising money, time and automation were values that collided with the values of user-centred design.

One can wonder why this way of thinking is not present in software development processes such as agile development? It feels like the value sensitive design and the ideas behind that are completely off, even though agile generally has a very strong focus on working teams, humans, communication and leadership – not to mention speed. 

Perhaps it would be easier to discuss values in software development today than ten years ago due to the discussion about sustainability? Perhaps things have matured and we have another way of thinking than before? Hmmm. Or perhaps not?