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    Drawing problems from embedded values

  • Changes in a STS (e.g., the integration of a new technology) produce value mismatches as the values in the new component conflict with those already existing within the STS. Giving laptops to children produces a conflict between children's safety requirements and the safety features embedded in laptops as designed for adults.
  • Changes within a STS can exaggerate existing value conflicts. Using digitalized textbooks on laptop computers magnifies the existing conflict concerning intellectual property; the balance between copyrights and educational dissemination is disrupted by the ease of copying and distributing digitalized media.
  • Changes in STS can also lead to long term harms. Giving laptops to children threatens environmental harm as the laptops become obsolete and need to be safely disposed of.
Values embedded in sts
Hardware Software Physical Surroundings People, Groups, Roles Procedures Laws Data and Data Structures
Responsibility for Safety
Free Speech
Intellectual Property

Using socio-technical system grids for problem specification

The activity of framing is a central component of moral imagination. Framing a situation structures its elements into a meaningful whole. This activity of structuring suggests both problems and solutions. Framing a situation in different ways offers alternative problem specifications and solution possibilities. Since skillful framing requires practice, this part of the module suggests how socio-technical system tables can help provide different frames for problem specification and solution generation.

    Different problem frames

  • Technical Frame : Engineers frame problems technically, that is, they specify a problem as raising a technical issue and requiring a technical design for its resolution. For example, in the STS grid appended below, the Burger Man corporation wishes to make its food preparation areas more safe. Framing this technically, it would be necessary to change the designs of ovens so they are more accident-proof.
  • Physical Frame : How can the Burger Man corporation redesign its restaurants as physical facilities to make them more accessible? One way is to change the access points by, say, designing ramps to make restaurants wheel chair accessible. Framing this as a physical problem suggests solutions based on changing the physical structure and arrangement of the Burger Man STS.
  • Social Frame : Burger Man as a corporation has stakeholders, that is, groups or individuals who have an essential interest at play in relation to the corporation. For example, framing the problem of making Burger Man more safe as a social problem might suggest the solution of integrating workplace safety into worker training programs and conducting regular safety audits to identify embedded risks.
  • Financial or Market-Based Frames : Burger Man is a for-profit corporation which implies that it has certain financial responsibilities. Consequently, Burger Man should be concerned with how to provide safe, child-proof chairs and tables that do not cut unduly into corporate profits. But like the legal perspective, it is necessary to conduct ethical and social framing activities to compensate for the one-sidedness of financial framing.
  • Managerial Frame : Many times ethical problems can be framed as managerial problems where the solution lies in changing managerial structures, reporting relations, and operating procedures. For example, Burger Man may develop a specific procedure when a cashier finishes a shift and turns over the cash register and its contents to another cashier. Burger Man may develop cleaning procedures and routines to minimize the possibility of serving contaminated or spoiled food to customers.
  • Legal Frame : Burger Man may choose to frame its environmental responsibilities into developing effective procedures for complying with OSHAA and EPA regulations. Framing a problem legally certainly helps to identify effective and necessary courses of action. But, because the ethical and social cannot be reduced to the legal, it is necessary to apply other frames to uncover additional risks not suggested by the legal framing.
  • Environmental Framing : Finally, how does Burger Man look from the environmental standpoint? Does it consider environmental value (environmental health, safety, and integrity) as merely a side constraint to be addressed only insofar as it interferes with realizing supposedly more important values such as financial values? Is it a value to be traded off with other values? (For example, Burger Man may destroy the local environment by cutting down trees to make room for its latest restaurant but it offsets this destruction through its program of planting new trees in Puerto Rican tropical rain forests.) Framing a problem as an environmental problem puts the environment first and sets as a goal the integration of environmental values with other values such as worker safety and corporate profits.

Burger man socio-technical system table

Clicking on this figure will open as a Word file a STS table based on the fictional corporation, Burger Man. Below are a list of problems suggested by the STS analysis.

This module consists of two attached Media Files. The first file provides background information on STSs. The second file provides two sample STS grids or tables. These grids will help you to develop specific STSs to analyze cases in engineering, business, and computer ethics without having to construct a completely new STS for each case. Instead, using the two tables as templates, you will be able to zero in on the STS that is unique to the situation posed by the case. This module also presents background constraints to problem-solving in engineering, business, and computer ethics. These constraints do not differ absolutely from the constituents of STSs. However, they pose underlying constraints that outline the feasibility of an ethical decision and help us to identify obstacles that may arise when we attempt to implement ethical decisions.

Socio-technical systems

Socio-Technical Systems: Constituents, Values, Problems, and Constraints.

Sts templates

Two STSs, Power Engineering and the Puerto Rican Context of Engineering Practice.

Socio-technical environments table


  1. Brincat, Cynthia A. and Wike, Victoria S. (2000) Morality and the Professional Life: Values at Work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Huff, Chuck and Jawer, Bruce, "Toward a Design Ethics for Computing Professionals in Social Issues in Computing: Putting Computing in its Place , Huff, Chuck and Finholt, Thomas Eds. (1994) New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
  3. Solomon, Robert C. (1999) A Better Way to Think About Business: How Personal INtgrity Leads to Corporate Success. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  4. Wike, Victoria S. (2001) "Professional Engineering Ethics Bahavior: A Values-based Approach," Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition , Session 2461.

    Bibliographical information on power sts

  1. Acceptable Evidence: Science and Values in Risk Management, edited by Deborah G. Mayo and Rachelle D. Hollander. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  2. K. S. Shrader-Frechette. “Ethics and Energy” in Earthbound: New Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics, 1st Edition, edited by Tom Regan. NY, NY: Random House, 1984.
  3. Nancy G. Leveson. Safeware: System Safety and Computers. NY, NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.
  4. Charles Perrow. Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies. North America, Basic Books, 1984.
  5. Malcolm Gladwell. “Blowup” in The New Yorker, January 22, 1996: 32-36.
  6. James Reason. Human Error. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 1990.
  7. Mark Sagoff. The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
is this allso about nanoscale material
are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where is the latest information on a no technology how can I find it
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
Privacy Information Security Software Version 1.1a
What you would do if you were in the position of the tourist?
Irha Reply

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