Understanding of "governance" and "values"
Good governance needs to inform the policies pertaining to S&T. The White Paper on European Governance explicitly affirms “good governance” by elaborating the five principles of openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness, coherence (EC Commission 2009: 8/9). It is generally understood that norms such as openness or participation are central cornerstones for a more legitimate and just (“good”) governance. Yet, good governance, even with these specifications, may still be short on precisely those factors that prepare the ground for socially sustainable innovations, i.e. short on the value dimensions. The project thus calls for value-informed governance based on a better understanding of S&T related values of different societal groups and sectors, including more focus on ordinary citizens and identification of actual and potential value conflicts.
The project Value Isobars has worked on the assumption that a good grasp of social values, i.e. values that are either endorsed by some or disputed among several sectors of society, is a precondition for coming to terms with what people refer to when asking for more explicit considerations of ethical aspects (in general: the ELSI part) of new S&T. The project partners did not find a generally accepted definition of the term ‘values’ or ‘social values’ in the scholarly literature. The project partners have also noted that scholarly contributions pertaining to the identification of fundamental values in our societies not only are scattered between several disciplines, but also to a significant extent provide a confusing picture in regard to their potential policy implications. This can certainly be seen in the field of S&T policies, as exemplified by the debates about the genetic modification of crops and food where the focus has moved from risks to ethics.
The project has therefore adopted a working definition, on the basis of which the different work-packages have performed their work:
Values are reference points for evaluating something as positive or negative. Values are rationally and emotionally binding, giving long-term orientation and motivation for action. Values result from valuation processes and vice versa, hence they ‘originate’ in a dynamic dialectic.
It is important not to confuse values with attitudes or preferences because in the above mentioned sense, values are more basic. At the same time, values do not directly lead to action commanding norms and regulations, yet individuals and social groups feel bound to their values. This means that values and value governance open a dynamic, pluralistic as well as somewhat opaque and conflicting space of possible norms for action.
While many scholars affirm that values are basic for norms, attitudes and preferences, little is done to explicate this insight into policy or even into empirical research. Value Isobars set out to amend this lack and provide some tentative insight on the possible role and function in governance of science and technology. One can make the claim that values are one of the key and unexplored parameters responsible for changing attitudes on science and technology.