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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

Dissertation Ning Wang

Value Sensitive Innovation: Integrating Ethical Values in the Humanitarian Use of Drones


Emerging technologies are widely used in humanitarian, development and healthcare settings by aid agencies globally. Drones represent the first wave of robotic technology applied in the aid sector, demonstrating remarkable capacities to speed up humanitarian responses and to optimize aid supply operations. Although the so-called “humanitarian drones” provide a unique novel solution to harness the power of innovation in assisting humanitarian action and development initiatives, technological innovation intersects with values, norms, beliefs, and moral commitments.

This work aims to synthesize different sources of knowledge through two empirical field studies and a scoping literature review, conducted during 2019-2020. The objective is to systematically investigate and assess the ethical considerations emerged from the empirical and literature studies. The findings are expected to contribute to the ongoing debate and shed light on the nature, type, and scope of ethical issues that should be taken into consideration by humanitarian organizations when embarking upon innovation programs. As the outcome, a governance framework and a practical tool are proposed to help enhance value sensitivity in humanitarian innovation.

This dissertation contains four chapters. In the introduction chapter, I will provide the context in which the research was carried out, including the notion of “humanitarian drones” as well as the general ethical landscape around the use of them in the humanitarian and development settings. In the next chapter, I will outline the key research findings, including a scoping literature review and two empirical field studies, alongside five peer-reviewed articles published by the relevant scientific journals and conferences proceedings. In the subsequent chapter, I will discuss the need for ethics guidance on this topic and present the proposed governance framework and tool developed to meet this goal, which will result in the sixth publication of the research. In the last chapter, final remarks will be conferred to conclude the discussion.