The Oxford Internet Institute has joined a new £4 million research network to explore how to ensure digital technology is good both for society and the economy. The ‘Digital Good Network’ will look at how digital technologies can be used to positively benefit people, society and the economy.
The Digital Good Network (DGN) will be hosted by the University of Sheffield and led by a consortium of universities and cross-sector stakeholders including the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford, the BBC and Birmingham Museums Trust.
Funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Digital Good Network will bring researchers together across disciplines and sectors to generate new insights into ‘digital good’, providing digital technology developers, companies and policymakers with the know-how to ensure technologies contribute to the public good.
The DGN will focus on three societal challenges that are crucial to realising good relationships with, and through, digital technologies:
- equity – because digital relationships take place in conditions of structural inequity;
- sustainability – because planetary challenges such as climate change demand that digital relationships are sustainable;
- resilience – because wellbeing, wellness and coping strategies are important to realising the digital good in the face of pandemics, political conflicts, natural disasters, digital misinformation and online hate.
Society increasingly relies on digital technologies, with many integral to people’s relationships and experiences. Institutions use technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make their relationships with the public more efficient; digital platforms can be used to share information and connect to others; and apps are increasingly used to administer our lives.
All of our relationships with digital technologies have both positive and negative effects on people and the planet. Even the most well-intentioned technologies can do harm whether they become discriminatory or are used to harass and mislead.
To help ensure that digital technologies have good societal outcomes, the DGN will produce a Digital Good Index to evaluate digital innovations and ensure positive outcomes for society. The index will not reduce ‘digital good’ to a simplistic formula or checklist; rather, it will account for how, when, where and for whom digital relationships might be considered good.
DGN Director, Professor Helen Kennedy, University of Sheffield, said: “Because technologies can be harmful, it is understandable that to date, there has been more attention to digital harms than to the digital good. But to ensure that digital technologies have good outcomes for people and societies, we need to turn our attention to what the digital good should look like and how it can be achieved.
“I think this is what US critical race scholar Ruha Benjamin means when she says ‘remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within’.”
The research conducted by the DGN will be co-produced and aligns with the needs of policy, industry, practitioner, community and civil society. DGN will:
- distribute funds to support interdisciplinary research projects
- host technology design sprints, workshops and exhibitions
- inform policy, practice and public understanding
- feed into development processes for devices, services and public policy.
Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Dr Scott A. Hale, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said:
“As digital technologies become ever more intertwined in our lives, it’s essential that we take a step back to think about what the digital good should look like and how it can be achieved. I’m excited to bring my experience of machine learning and digital data to answer social science questions and help other researchers make use of the latest algorithms and data in this collaboration.
“In short, the project is designed to understand what we want our digital relationships to look like. How do we define the ‘digital good’ and how do we achieve it. My role as the “Emerging Methodologies Coordinator,” will be to help bring Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and large-scale data to bear on the questions. Rather than doing all this work myself, I will be providing training and tools for researchers to incorporate these techniques into their own research.”
Oxford Internet Institute contact: Sara Spinks – firstname.lastname@example.org
Network contact: Rebecca Ferguson, 0114 222 3670, email@example.com
Notes to editors:
- Find out more: digitalgood.net
- Follow: Twitter: @digitalgoodnet
- Subscribe: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The £4 million in funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will fund the Digital Good Network over the next five years.