Working with stakeholder value tensions


Educational setting:

Values in design,
Master level,
free-standing online course,
part-time (50 %),


2 x 2 h workshops (and homework in between)

Number of students:


Learning Activities

In this distance course on Values in Design, students came from different countries and different places in Sweden. It was run through a combination of video conferencing, digital whiteboard and other digital tools like presentation and video editing tools. The students worked individually and reflected upon commercial products, systems or services, and finally, on a design project that they were involved in at the time of the course, or a design project that they had already finished. The students learned with their peers through weekly presentations.

The course was structured in such a way that each week of the course had a specific theme and assignment (or a combination of two assignments) related to values in design. Each week started with a lecture on Mondays about the assignment topic where the assignment was introduced, and relevant literature was discussed. Then students worked on the assignment during the week and presented their assignments to each other on Thursday afternoons where they gave each other peer critique. The teachers facilitated the peer critique sessions.

This case shows the results of two exercises: firstly, a stakeholder values elicitation (see “Materials” for slides) that builds upon an introduction to working with stakeholder values (see “Materials” for slides) and an exercise where students listed stakeholders and their values (see “Materials” for slides). Students investigated a commercial product, system or service of their choice. This happened in week 6 of the course. In week 9 of the course, students did an analysis of the value tensions that were present in their own projects that they reflected upon during the course.

Learning Outcomes

Both exercises led to some in-depth reflections about a great array of stakeholders’ values and how these values might be manifested in a product, system or service. When the students later reflected upon value tensions, they showed an understanding that values manifested through product functions and attributes could be in tension with each other in the actual product, system or service.

Figure 1 and 2. Student investigating an insulin pump.

In the example in Figure 1 and 2, a student investigated an insulin pump and the key values related to direct and indirect stakeholders in a diagram made in Miro. The student considered the human support structure around the use of an insulin pump, and considerations on the environment were also included. In the values elicitation diagram that followed, the student highlighted safe use of the pump, which was translated into it being waterproof. This then again led to considerations about which materials the pump and its components should consist of.

Figure 3. Investigation of the Gillette razor. (see materials sidebar for bigger version with more content of the process)

In Figure 3, an example of a student investigating the Gillette razor is given. What is clear from this figure is that the student considered many other aspects of this product as stakeholders and it seemed like the student needed a discussion on the definition of “stakeholder”. While Friedman and Hendry 2019 present a broad definition of stakeholders, teachers might still need to discuss how we might define what is a stakeholder. While the stakeholder values elicitation worksheet looked logical in terms of content, the student did not make a connection between values, and the resulting functions and attributes.

Figure 4. Student investigating Lego duplo blocks. (see materials sidebar for bigger version)

In Figure 4, a student investigated Lego duplo blocks. In the stakeholder map, there seemed to be a certain association about their role in indicating status and representing education and how that in turn had an impact on society. It also included considerations for the environment and manufacturing workers. In the value elicitation diagram, the student traced values to functions to attributes. For example: family-orientedness led to diversity, that then led to different shapes and sizes.

The two examples below are an in-depth presentation of one student’s work: an analysis of a project that evolved around an online messenger app based on face-to-face communication values. In the two worksheets that were associated with the value tensions worksheets, the student had many elaborate considerations on what it meant to pay attention to additional modalities in media communication. The student reflected on four project values that were identified in a previous week of the course. The main tension that the student identified was that additional modalities would bring people closer to each other, even though they were not physically co-present. In that way, remote communication could become too intrusive, when people are always available through their devices and through remote communication forms. For your own interpretation, please inspect the two worksheets here: Value tensions worksheet 2 and worksheet 3.

The results from the values dams and flow exercise made some students reconsider their core values, and rethink how the products might be experienced by different stakeholder groups. Through the exercise the dynamics between different values became clear, and how different stakeholders may be affected by these dynamics. By identifying potential tensions, and coming up with proposals for how to resolve them, the students were given tools for balancing these different viewpoints. They realised that one value does not have to go at the expense of another. Instead, they can try to find a balance and through that prevent potential conflicts from occurring.


Friedman, Batya; and Hendry, David G. (2019) Value Sensitive Design – shaping Technology with moral imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Chapter 2)

Friedman B., Kahn P.H., Borning A., Huldtgren A. (2013) Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems. In: Doorn N., Schuurbiers D., van de Poel I., Gorman M. (eds) Early engagement and new technologies: Opening up the laboratory. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, vol 16. Springer, Dordrecht.

Miller, Jessica K., Friedman, Batya, Jancke, Gavin, & Gill, Brian. (2007). Value tensions in design: the value sensitive design, development, and appropriation of a corporation's groupware system. In Proceedings of the 2007 international ACM conference on Supporting group work (pp. 281-290).



Teaching Activities: