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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

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
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Corporate governance. OpenStax CNX. Aug 20, 2007 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col10396/1.10
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