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Digital Good Network to ensure digital technologies are used to benefit society

24 November 2022

£4 million has been granted to a new consortium of UK universities and institutions to help discover how digital technologies can help people, society, and the economy.

The Digital Good Network (DGN) will be led by a consortium including Sheffield Hallam, the BBC and Birmingham Museums Trust. It will be hosted by the University of Sheffield. 

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:  because wellbeing, wellness and coping strategies in the face of pandemics, political conflicts, natural disasters, digital misinformation, online hate are important to realise the digital good 

Society increasingly relies on digital technologies, with many having become integral to people’s relationships and experiences. 

But those same technologies can also discriminate or be used to harass or mislead, and all our relationships with digital technologies have both positive and negative effects on the planet. 

The DGN will produce a Digital Good Index to evaluate digital innovations and ensure good societal outcomes. The index will account for how, when and where digital relationships might be considered good. 

DGN Reliance Challenge Leader, Dr Abi Millings from Sheffield Hallam University, said: “I’m excited to discover where the interdisciplinarity of this network can take us and I can’t wait to get started. 

“I’ll be overseeing how resilience as a theme can feature in all Digital Good Network activities, and how resilience intersects with equity and sustainability. 

“As part of the core team’s research, I’ll be taking a psychological lens and exploring how digital technologies can affect psychological resilience, for good and for ill. One way I’ll do this is through observing the relationship between digital technologies and people’s emotional resilience over time.” 

The research conducted by the DGN will inform policy, practice and public understanding and feed into development processes.   

DGN Director, Professor Helen Kennedy from the 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.” 

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. 

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