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Technology, Individuality and Public Policy (ESRC Public Services Programme and OII Public Service Workshop Series)

Date & Time:
00:00:00, Wednesday 4 February -
00:00:00, Wednesday 11 March, 2009


About the series

This workshop series aims to look at developments across policy sectors such as transport, health, education and criminal justice and in countries where they are most advanced, such as Singapore. It also aims to explore the extent to which personalisation effects can be generalised across the ‘tools’ of government policy, as argued by Hood and Margetts in The Tools of Government in the Digital Age (Palgrave, 2007).

The workshop is part of a series which has been running for several years, and comprises a small informal group of faculty and graduate students interested in the analysis of public policy, public services and executive government. It aims to work wherever possible on the basis of pre-circulated short papers, with short presentations followed immediately by discussion.


The Internet and other information technology developments in principle facilitate new ways of ‘personalising’ policies and services for specific groups of individuals, from scanning, tracking and identity systems to health care treatments that build on the ability to classify individuals into subpopulations that differ in their susceptibility to particular disease or in their response to specific treatments.

Some such developments are ‘personalizing’ and ‘depersonalizing’ at the same time, as in the case of face-to-face contacts being replaced by other forms of interaction. They lend themselves to numerous possible applications, from enhancing markets and choice at the expense of traditional arrangements, for instance in doctor-patient relationships, to more targeted applications of government policy and security surveillance. The aim of this lunchtime workshop is to explore the implications of this development for public policy in the coming decades.

This workshop is intended to bring in participants from several disciplines that are relevant to understanding the interaction of the internet, cultural change and other technological developments on government and public services. Some of the questions we hope to ask include:

  • Is technological development leading to a ‘demodernization’ of public policy in some sense, with more person-specific detection and treatment procedures?

  • Does personalization in one form (for example differentiation of individuals according to particular characteristics) inevitably mean depersonalization in some other sense, such as ‘whole person treatment’?

  • Will personalization lead to rising inequity in public policy outcomes?




4 February

Helen Margetts (Professor of Society and the Internet, OII) Personalising the Tools of Government, and Yorick Wilks (Professor of Computer Science, OII and University of Sheffield) Personalising Public Policy with Companions

11 February

Nikolas Rose (James Martin White Professor of Sociology and Director of BIOS Research Centre for the study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society, LSE) Confluence of Consumerism Technology in Personalising Medicine

18 February

Rose Luckin (Professor of Learner Centred Design, London Knowledge Lab and University of Sussex) Personalising Education

25 February

Mary Dixon Woods (Professor of Medical Sociology, University of Leicester) Technoregulation: Doctors and Design-based Approaches to Patient Safety

4 March

Roger Burrows (Professor of Sociology, University of York) Geodemographics, Commercial Sociology and Public Policy

11 March

Kieron O’Hara (Philosopher, Computer Scientist and Political Writer, Senior Research Fellow in School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton) Autonomy, Privacy and Online Personalisation: Rights and Responsibilities

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  • Professor Helen Margetts
  • Name: Professor Helen Margetts|Professor Christopher Hood
  • Affiliation: Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute,
    University of Oxford|Department of Politics and International Relations, University of
  • Role: |
  • URL:|
  • Bio: |