<aside> 🌈 This has been replaced by Making Values Concrete


Joe Edelman DRAFT June 2021. Thanks to B. Gabbai, A. Morris, A. Ovadya, J. Stray, & F. Noriega

The customer's always right. The people have spoken. These phrases illustrate the central role of "revealed preference" in our markets and democracies. Revealed preferences guide designers and policymakers**.** Their work is ultimately judged by what customer-citizens pick from a set of options presented in the marketplace or on the ballot.

When revealed preferences get summed up, they're called "engagement metrics" — most commonly clicks, views, purchases, or votes. The product or policy with the highest engagement is said to serve the user-citizens most, because they choose it most. The people have spoken. The customer's always right.

That has an attractive simplicity. Yet, we sense a tension: what we imagine with "values-based design" isn't exactly "engagement-maximizing design". Likewise, "values-based policy" isn't exactly populism.

But to point this out is courting danger: Don't people know best for their own lives? Do I want to impose "better values" from above?

There's a way out of this binary: one can believe people know best, and have wise values, but that their engagements aren't the last word on their values. Supporting this, though, is tough: you need another source of information on people's values. One that is the last word. But: what could be as robust as people's own revealed preferences?

Furthermore, "values" can mean different things:

Let's call the first kind social visions; the second, meaning nuggets.*

I believe we can collect these meaning nuggets, and evolve designs and policies in service of them, as robustly as we can with revealed preference. To show this, I'll build on work by various philosophers and psychologists, *sources, and say things about the role of attention in choice-making, the nature of meaningful experience, and the difference between theoretical knowledge and life wisdom.

On Preferences

Designers are supposed to evolve products to better suit users. Similarly, policymakers are supposed to evolve policies to suit citizens. Each, therefore, needs information about users or citizens—information that serves as evidence that a product or policy direction is an improvement.

Various information is collected, but the gold standard is revealed preference in both fields. Why? Because preferences are: