Ibo van de Poel from TU Delft receives a prestigious ERC grant for research on ‘Design for Changing Values’

How can we enhance the ability of complex socio-technical systems to adapt to value changes in society?

Having received a Vici grant from the NWO, the Dutch Organisation on Scientific Research, for his research on ‘new technologies as social experiments’ in 2010, Prof. dr. ir. I.R. Ibo van de Poel has recently received a second prestigious grant, this time from the European Research Council: an Advanced ERC grant of 2.5 million euro for his new research project, ‘Design for Changing Values’.

Deepening our philosophical understanding of value change in society

Values are durable, yet dynamic

The research ‘Design for Changing Values’ will foster our knowledge and understanding on how to adapt socio-technical systems according to value changes in society. We find an array of values in society, ranging from justice to sustainability. These values are dynamic and can change with the introduction of a new technology. For example, the support to a fully sustainable auto industry, made possible by diverse technologies, is growing. However, despite the way in which values can change in society, it is not as easy to alter the socio-technological ecosystems accordingly. These systems are deeply embedded within and through our society and so too are the ‘traditional’ values deeply embedded in these systems. Moreover, despite the fact that values are dynamic, theories and accounts of values treat values as if they are static, impeding our knowledge and ability to transform socio-technical systems.

Deepening our understanding of value change

With this research the primary aim is to better understand value change philosophically. Therefore Ibo van de Poel and his team will develop a philosophical theory of value change. Ibo van de Poel says, ‘What is important about this research is that it offers the opportunity to philosophically explore and deepen our understanding of what values are, and to develop a philosophical account of values in which justice is done to value change without losing sight of the fact that values are durable expressions on what is good and valuable’.

A philosophical theory of value change

Secondly, with this theory the ability of complex socio-technical systems, such as the socio-technical system underlying the auto industry, to adapt to value changes in society will be enhanced. Instead of the traditional static accounts of values, Ibo van de Poel and his team will develop a dynamic account of values by studying the dynamics of value change. They will move beyond studying separate technologies to analyse the embedded values within socio-technical systems and design strategies will be developed for socio-technical systems to become better capable of responding and adapting to value change. To further support the development of this theory, the theory of value change will be applied to case studies on energy systems and robot systems. Ibo van de Poel adds, ‘I believe that this philosophical deepening into value and value change is necessary to theoretically and practically advance value sensitive design.

Adapting complex socio-technical systems to value changes in society

More on the European Research Council

As one of the funding platforms in Europe, the European Research Council (ERC) is the most important component of Horizon 2020, the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. What is different about the ERC approach is that instead of research priorities coming from politicians, in a top-down fashion, the ERC applies a bottom-up approach. Researchers are encouraged to identify promising new research directions. Applying for an ERC grant is open to any researcher (planning to work or) working in Europe, however, academic excellence is the defining criteria to choose grantees. This highly competitive and demanding funding structure ensures that the best and most promising ideas are recognised and supported, and that the leading researchers of today and tomorrow are accredited for their invaluable work and astounding talents. The support of independent talented researchers, such as Ibo van de Poel, pushes society forward with ground-breaking scientific and technological discoveries. ERC grants are rewarded to ‘frontier research’, research that goes beyond and fundamentally advances our knowledge.

For more information on Prof. dr. ir. I.R. Ibo van de Poel, please visit: http://ethicsandtechnology.eu/member/van_de_poel_ibo/

Key Publications

  • Van de Poel, Ibo. 2016. “An Ethical Framework for Evaluating Experimental Technology.”  Science and Engineering Ethics 22 (3):667-686. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9724-3.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo. 2016. “A Coherentist View on the Relation Between Social Acceptance and Moral Acceptability of Technology.” In Philosophy of Technology after the Empirical Turn, edited by Maarten Franssen, E. Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes and W. M. Anthonie Meijers, 177-193.Cham: Springer International Publishing.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo. 2015. “Morally experimenting with nuclear energy.” In The Ethics of Nuclear Energy: Risk, Justice and Democracy in the post-Fukushima Era, edited by Behnam Taebi and Sabine Roeser, 179-199. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo. 2013. “Translating values into design requirements.” In Philosophy and Engineering: Reflections on Practice, Principles and Process, edited by D. Mitchfelder, N. McCarty and D.E. Goldberg, 253-266. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Taebi, Behnam, Sabine Roeser, and Ibo van de Poel. 2012. “The ethics of nuclear power: Social experiments, intergenerational justice, and emotions.”  Energy Policy 51 (December 2012):202-206. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2012.09.004.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo, Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, Neelke Doorn, Sjoerd Zwart, and Lambèr Royakkers. 2012. “The Problem of Many Hands: Climate Change as an Example.”  Science and Engineering Ethics18 (1):49-68. doi: 10.1007/s11948-011-9276-0.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo, and Jessica Nihlen-Fahlquist. 2012. “Risk and responsibility.” In Handbook of Risk Theory, edited by Sabine Roeser, Rafaela Hillerbrand, Martin Peterson and Per Sandin, 877-907. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Van de Poel, Ibo, and Sjoerd D. Zwart. 2010. “Reflective Equilibrium in R&D Networks.”  Science, Technology & Human Values 35 (2):174-199.



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