The Oxford Internet Institute, the world’s first truly multi-disciplinary Internet institute based within a major university, held its launch conference on the 27 September 2002, with nearly 300 people attending and incredible support expressed for the new department. The conference focused on the need to ensure closer integration between research and policy-making in this field. As a first step in this process, ‘Casting a Wider Net: Integrating Research and Policy on the Social Impacts of the Internet’ brought together key figures from industry, academia and politics to discuss how this might be achieved.

Stephen Timms MP, the Minister for e-Commerce applauded this vision in his keynote speech at the conference, saying that: “The Internet has already transformed the way we live, communicate and do business. And the transformation is far from over. Closer links between research, policy and practice are essential to help us make the most of this technology. The establishment of the OII is an important, and welcome, step in this direction.”

The OII has been established to undertake research into the Internet’s implications for society. Professor William Dutton, first Director of the OII, explained the importance of this work and laid out his vision for the Institute’s future: “The OII will conduct world-class research that engages policy and practitioner communities in the UK and globally. Given the importance of this technology, we need to develop a far more sophisticated understanding of the ways that social and institutional factors shape the Internet and its implications for society if public policy is to provide a genuinely helpful framework for its advancement.”

In the light of this vision, the conference sessions asked delegates to identify key issues which the Institute’s research might address. Although a wide range of topics were suggested, common themes emerged around the importance of maintaining a healthy scepticism towards frequently stated assumptions concerning the Internet’s societal effects and the need to find a common language within which the various sectors could communicate.

Speakers at the conference included Ben Verwaayen, CEO of the BT Group, Professor Eli Noam of Columbia University, Professor Barbara Simons of Stanford University, Professor Steve Woolgar of Oxford University and Derek Wyatt, Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey.