The study of human values continues to be a topic that is open to debate, ambiguity and interpretation. There is conflict amongst academic scholars on fundamental factors, such as defining the meaning of values; the number of values that a person has; ways that people systematically organise and prioritise their own conflicting values. External factors, including society, culture, religion, economics and associations with peer groups, all have an enormous influence on human values through helping them to decide consciously, and often sub-consciously, their views and decisions they make. Rokeach (1973) has stated that:
“A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence” (Rokeach 1973:5).
This highlights the notion of ‘conflicting values’; this occurs when one method of doing something and/or the desired outcome is preferred over others. When a person’s values conflict, they must decide which has the greater value to them, in accordance with what Powell (2008) describes as what they feel ‘ought’ to happen? The idea that values are ‘enduring’ over time and not easily altered by external factors will be considered through gaining an understanding towards the stability of human values.
The following case study of a complex decision shall now be discussed in order to assess and analyse how values influenced the outcome and ways they were managed.
The Complex Decision:
From personal experience, I have selected the building of a wooden spiral staircase in my previous house. This was built as part of a large extension and renovation project, which involved joining a four metre gap between the house and garage, extending the kitchen and building a first floor bathroom above the adjoined area. My parents hoped that this would be a three-year project, after which they intended to sell the house and make a substantial profit. The staircase undoubtedly proved to be the most difficult aspect of the overall project. The main reason for this was the complex nature of building a very unique and specialised design. The most difficult part was building the wooden handrail that had to remain level whilst curving and rising simultaneously; this required specialist knowledge and expertise. Based on the architect’s design they employed a specialist joiner to build the staircase, but he was unable to cope with building it to specification. He informed us that he could build a more simplistic model at a lower cost. The dilemma my parents now faced was whether to accept this, as it would allow it to be built quicker and within budget, or whether to employ another specialist joiner who had greater experience to hand build it on site, albeit at a considerably higher price? The latter option would inevitably cause delays to the main contractor in commencing building to the first floor of the extension. However, it would allow my parents to reach their long-term objective: to maximise the value of the house.
Powell (2008) discusses ‘values’ as encompassing all aspects of buildings which people believe to be important, including aesthetics, humaneness, ethics and the ‘delight and joy’ which they bring to people’s lives. The term ‘buildings’ on the other hand, relates to all aspects of the built environment, such as architecture, planning, surveying and engineering. The notion that both a ‘person’ and an ‘object’, like a building, have values is acknowledged by Rokeach (1973). Powell describes ‘Axiology’ (the science of values) in relation to buildings as:
“The philosophical theory of value in general, embracing ethics, aesthetics, technical, prudential, hedonic and other forms of value.”
He has categorised values relating to the building to the people involved and to the building itself, into 10 facets of value. They are listed down the left hand column of the table below, which ranks the level of importance to each party. The four most important elements to each party are shown with a number 1 ranking given to the most important value:
|Powell’s Values||The Client/ Employer||The Architect||Main Contractor||1st Sub-Contractor||2nd Sub-Contractor|
|Technical or Technological||4||2||1||2|
The managing of values for the parties shown in the table above relates to ‘modes of conduct’ or ‘end states of existence’ which Rokeach (1973) categorises as our instrumental and terminal values. Here is a brief summary encompassing both types of values to each of the parties:
The Nature of Values
Rogers (2001) believes that an infant child will possess values as they know within themselves what they like. He describes values in this pure form as an ‘organismic valuing process’. This means that they have not been influenced by external factors that will lead to their values conflicting as they mature, due to complex interchanges in requiring them to decide what is perceived to be right.
During this project my father’s health suffered as a result of the stress and pressures involved in such a demanding project. At the outset he was clear in his objective, which as discussed was to make a substantial financial gain on the property. However, it seems apparent that it would have been better for him if he had not been involved with this burden, as his health deteriorated and therefore, it would have been more ‘valuable’ for him and my family to either cease the project or finish it quickly without achieving the desired end state of existence. However, my parents believed that they could ‘ride the storm’ and so decided to pursue what they had set out to do. Unfortunately, this resulted in his health deteriorating further. Continuing with the pursuit of the grand scheme was perhaps much to do with what they believed they “ought” to do, as it was a project they had started with a particular terminal value. Society and the economic climate at that time suggested that the best thing for people to do was to invest in property in order to achieve greater financial gain. However, doing what they believed they ought to have done was not necessarily the best option, but it demonstrates that their values were able to ‘endure’ an extremely difficult period.
This project was built during a more stable economic climate than the current one, therefore if it was built during the recent financial crisis their terminal values may have been altered, and they would most likely have chosen to proceed with the first sub-contractor that was willing to build it at a lower cost, but at the sacrifice of higher quality. This demonstrates how outcomes will be influenced by changing events, which may alter the hierarchy in which people manage values. In this instance economic value would therefore take precedence over aesthetic value for the employer. This demonstrates that the enduring nature of their values may not have been completely stable, as they may need to be adaptable to change.
Number of Values People Possess
A major area of debate amongst academics is the number of values people possess. It is, however, widely accepted that people possess far fewer terminal values than they do instrumental ones. Rokeach has noted that we have a dozen and half terminal values, compared with several times as many instrumental. Green (1994) has contrasted this to Maslow (1954) who has cited five terminal values; Murray (1938) acknowledging a larger amount of 28; Freud (1922) citing merely two. Flood and Carsson (1998) have declared that:
“The number of values human beings possess is assumed to be relatively small and, if small enough, it should be easy to identify and measure them” (Flood and Carsson, 1998:46).
This should enable them to be placed into a hierarchical system, such as that demonstrated through the table displaying Powell’s values and through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory as shown below:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs/Motivation can be used as means of explaining how people place greater priorities on certain values as opposed to others due to the level of fulfilment that they serve. It also suggests that values serve ego-defensive, knowledge and self-actualisation functions; therefore my parent’s decision to employ the services of the second sub-contractor for accomplishing the grand design was done to satisfy their ‘esteem’ needs (arguably driven by an egotistical desire for greater elaboration than was necessary), and ‘self actualisation’ as this would overcome a major obstacle in the building of their dream home. Had they decided to use the first sub-contractor to build the staircase with a more simplistic design at a lower price and a shorter completion time; this could have satisfied lower ranked needs, such as (financial) security and it may also have given them greater peace of mind. As a result, this may have prevented my father’s health from deteriorating due to stress, which would help to meet basic physiological needs. However, due to not satisfying this supposed lower ranked need, their higher order needs were not fulfilled either as despite the project being completed to the highest possible standard, this became insignificant due to my father’s health suffering.
As discussed, the study of values is open to interpretation and debate given its complexity and ambiguity in defining them. Rokeach has outlined five assumptions about the study of human values:
Having assessed the influence that values have on the outcome of a complex decision and ways in which they were managed, some important concepts have been discovered, including the popular belief held by writers that a person has far fewer terminal values that are concerned with end states of existence than they do instrumental. Inevitably value systems will conflict when faced with complexity, therefore it is essential to manage them effectively in order to decide which are the most important. This was evidenced when Powell’s values were prioritised to each party involved in the case study, and also when placing them into a hierarchical system, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Undoubtedly, values play an enormous part in making decisions as they enable people to decide what is important to them; this will result in them acting in accordance of achieving their value objectives. Without managing them effectively, people would be unable to rank or clearly define their levels of importance when faced with complexity, therefore values and ways in which they are managed are fundamentally important to the decision making process; values will ultimately decide the running and outcomes of a construction or development project on a smaller scale, such as the case study, but also for much larger and complex projects that are built on a grander scale.
Abraham Maslow (2008) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Available from: http://www.abraham-maslow.com/m_motivation/Hierarchy_of_Needs.asp [Accessed 17 January 2009]
Flood, A. and Carson, G. (1988) Dealing with Complexity – An Introduction to the Theory and Application of Systems Science: 2nd Edition: Plenum Press: New York
Green, T. (1994) Soft Value Systems, International Journal of Project Management, vol 36, No 3, pp 221-235
Powell, B. (2008) Axiology (The Science of Values) Related to Building, Routledge: London
Rogers, H. (2001) Understanding Value Systems, Blackwell Publishers Ltd: Oxford
Rokeach (1973) The Nature of Human Values, Free Press: New York