UKRI and ESRC funded Network Plus – Digital Good Network

What is the network about?

A new ‘Digital Good Network’ will explore how digital technologies can be used in ways that benefit people, society and the economy. 

The ESRC Digital Good Network (DGN) will be hosted by the University of Sheffield and will be led by a consortium of universities and cross-sector stakeholders including Elgon Social Research, the BBC and Birmingham Museums Trust.

Funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the DGN will bring researchers together across disciplines and sectors to generate new insights into the ‘digital good’, and provide 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 envisioning good relationships with, and through, digital technologies: 

  • equity: because digital relationships take place in conditions of structural inequity
  • sustainability:  because planetary challenges like climate change demand that our digital relationships are sustainable
  • resilience:  becausewellbeing, wellness and coping strategies in the face of pandemics, political conflicts, natural disasters, digital misinformation, online hate are important to realise the digital good

Why does this matter?
Society increasingly relies on digital technologies, with many having become 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.

But those same technologies can also discriminate, or be used to harass or mislead – even the most well-intentioned technologies can end up doing harm; as all of our relationships with digital technologies have both positive and negative effects on the planet.

What is the approach?
To help ensure that digital technologies have good societal outcomes, the DGN will produce a Digital Good Index to evaluate digital innovations and ensure good societal outcomes. The index won’t reduce the ‘digital good’ to a simplistic checklist; rather, it will account for how, when, where and for whom digital relationships might be considered good.

The index could be used to help evaluate the success of the Online Safety Bill, which aims to minimise digital harms. It could do the same for other policies, including the National Data Strategy, which emphasises responsible, fair and ethical data uses, and the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which focuses on protecting publics and values.

Where next with this research?

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. 

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