Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights - ESRC Seminar Series

Principal Investigator: Prof Gillian Youngs (University of Brighton)

Prof William Dutton (Oxford Internet Institute)
Prof Katharine Sarikakis (University of Vienna)
Dr Tracy Simmons (University of Leicester)


Digital policy is currently high on political, communications and commercial agendas. While the digital revolution is well underway in the UK controversial areas such as copyright infringement, the future and functions of public service content, and the role of Ofcom continue to be debated.  In the longer term the potential for economic transformations and growth through the digital economy, including the development of new skills, technological and industrial innovation and creativity, are at stake.

This seminar series has been bringing together a distinctive mix of academic researchers at all levels, including research students, with policymakers and practitioners to focus on three key areas: connectivity, creativity and rights. The series explores questions such as: What kind of digital future is envisaged in Britain? Who continues to be left out or at risk in this digital future? What can be done to overcome major technical, knowledge and skills barriers to this? How much control needs to be exerted to achieve a safe online environment including for the most vulnerable? What new kinds of creativity and innovation are being unleashed by digital change and how can these be expanded? How is the public service ethos being tested and enhanced in the digital environment?

The series considers connectivity from social and skills-based as well as infrastructural and technical perspectives. Creativity is examined in a wide sense, including creative and media industries, transitions in public service and other forms of content, new knowledge and networking and political and commercial innovations. Rights points not only to the importance of digital inclusivity but broader concerns of digital empowerment through access not only to digital technologies but to the knowledge, skills and motivations that are required to use them in imaginative ways and to their full potential.

Part of the challenge the seminars are addressing is connecting the different discourses that are used in policy, commercial and civil society settings for digital developments to aid cross-stakeholder exchange on problems and solutions. This is especially important in areas such as regulation which involve diverse actors and, for example, new forms of public education about the risks of the online world and the need for new forms of awareness by children as well as parents and teachers about digital privacy issues and threats such as online stranger danger.

The series brings together creative commercial players, technical experts and educators to investigate the challenges of working towards a safe online world that emphasizes the innovative possibilities, including for self-empowerment and economic wealth generation, formal and informal educational opportunities, and overcoming different forms of social isolation and deprivation. At this moment of potentially profound changes in policy and practice, it is crucial to bring together actors with contrasting interests and perspectives to help inform and stimulate further debate and research.

A multi-stakeholder approach to engagement in the series is helping to identify the practical implications and challenges as well as critical debates about winners and losers in the digital policy transition. It brings policymakers and politicians at different levels together with academics, regulators, communications, media and creative industry representatives as well as members of NGOs, social and digital entrepreneurs and innovators.

So far seven major seminars have been held in the series in London, Newport (South Wales), Oxford, and Leicester. The series has included seminars and subsequent summary papers to contribute to the agenda-setting debates for the Connected Digital Economy Catapult being launched by the Technology Strategy Board, whose ICT and Creative Industries KTNs have co-sponsored the relevant seminars in the series, one of which was held at NESTA in London. Other co-sponsorships and collaborations on seminars and events have included the dot.rural RCUK Digital Economy Hub at Aberdeen University and the International Diplomatic Academy in Paris. Policy areas the seminars have engaged in include: Internet governance and national digital policies; local TV; Communications Bill processes.