Technology is increasingly playing a key role in supporting the production, distribution, and managed consumption of food. Software-based systems and applications now exist to support almost every part of the food supply chain, allowing affluent individuals to manage their diet and lifestyle, businesses to manage supply and demand, and producers to plug into the global food market. Yet the world’s food supply is under pressure. The global population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, requiring a 50% increase in food production to achieve food security. Food waste is prevalent, often caused by insufficient planning of purchase and consumption by individuals, and supply chain mismanagement by organisations. Indeed, one third of the world’s food is wasted along the supply chain: from initial production to final household consumption.
At present, there is a mismatch between the behaviour of both individuals and organisations, and the systems tasked with supporting that behaviour. Plentiful supply and easy access to cheap food sometimes encourages wasteful consumptive behaviours, whilst desirable ethical values and behaviours of individuals and organisations do not significantly influence the design and operation of the technologies that support food management. While policy makers, economists, and social scientists are often involved in the debate around ethical and practical questions of food security, technologists, and software engineers in particular, are often disengaged from debate, decision making, and implementation of ethical values in the technological solutions they are tasked to build.
The development of software systems to support ethical food choices requires the manifestation of a very specific, and clearly articulated set of values. Ethicists, philosophers, and sociologists have long argued that the value neutrality claim of technology is of concern, obscuring implicit societal biases, and that these concerns have not been translated to the domain of software development. Design thinking and methods traditionally offer the opportunity to surface values, provoke thought, and stimulate creative response. Value Sensitive Design (VSD) methodology explores the relationship between the investigation of human values (as social constructs), and the design of technology, providing a strong alignment between values and ethics. VSD reflects the interest in designing information and computational systems that support continuing human values, and it can be used as a means by which designers are sensitized to the values that shape the systems they create. Surfacing values requires multidisciplinary thought and approaches. Our approach is one of responsible innovation by design of value-aware software systems, in which values are made tangible, explicit, configurable, and adaptable.