Jettison the Digital Nanny State: Digitally Augment Users

My last blog argued that the UK should stop moving along the road of a duty of care regime, as this will lead Britain to become what might be called a ‘Digital Nanny State’, undermining the privacy and freedom of expression of all users. A promising number of readers agreed with my concerns, but some asked whether there was an alternative solution.

Before offering my suggestions, I must say that I do not see any solutions outlined by the duty of care regime. Essentially, a ‘duty of care’ approach[1], as outlined in the Cyber Harms White Paper would delegate solutions to the big tech companies, threatening top executives with huge fines or criminal charges if they fail to stop or address them.[2] That said, I assume that any ‘solutions’ would involve major breaches of the privacy and freedom of expression of Internet users across Britain given that surveillance and content controls would be the most likely necessity of their approach. The remedy would be draconian and worse that the problems to be addressed.[3]

Nevertheless, it is fair to ask how the problems raised by the lists of cyber harms could be addressed. Let me outline elements of a more viable approach. 

Move Away from the Concept of Cyber Harms

Under the umbrella of cyber harms are lumped a wide range of problems that have little in common beyond being potential problems for some Internet users. Looked at with any care it is impossible to see them as that similar in origin or solution. For example, disinformation is quite different from sexting. They involve different kinds of problems, to different people, imposed by different actors. Trolling is a fundamentally different set of issues than the promotion of female genital mutilation (FGM). The only common denominator is that any of these actions might result is some harm at some level for some individuals or groups – but they are so different that they violate common sense and logic to put them into the same scheme. 

Moreover, any of the problems are not harms per se, but actions that could be harmful – maybe even lead to many harms at many different levels, from psychological to physical.  Step one in any reasonable approach would be to decompose this list of cyber harms into specific problems in order to think through how each problem could be addressed. Graham Smith captures this problem in noting that the mishmash of cyber harms might be better labelled ‘users behaving badly’.[4] The authors of the White Paper did not want a ‘fragmented’ array of problems, but the reality is that there are distinctly different problems that need to be addressed in different ways in different contexts by different people. For example, others have argued for looking at cyber harms from the perspective of human rights law. But each problem needs to be addressed on its own terms.

Remember that Technologies have Dual Effects

Ithiel de Sola Pool pointed out how almost any negative impact of the telephone could be said to have exactly the opposite impact as well – ‘dual effects’.[5] For example, a telephone in one’s home could undermine your privacy by interrupting the peace and quiet of the household, but it could also provide more privacy compared to people coming to your door. A computer could be used to enhance the efficiency of an organization, but if poorly designed and implemented, the same technology could undermine its efficiency. In short, technologies do not have inherent, deterministic effects, as their implications can be shaped by how we design, use and govern them in particular contexts. 

This is important here because the discussion of cyber harms is occurring is a dystopian climate of opinion. Journalists, politicians, and academics are jumping on a dystopian bandwagon that is as misleading as the utopian bandwagon of the Arab Spring when all thought the Internet would democratize the world. Both the utopian and dystopian perspectives are misleading, deterministic viewpoints that are unhelpful for policy and practice. 

Recognise: Cyber Space is not the Wild West

Many of the cyber harms listed in the White Paper are activities that are illegal. It seems silly to remind the Home Office in the UK that what is illegal in the physical world is also illegal online in so-called cyber space or our virtual world. Given that financial fraud or selling drugs is illegal, then it is illegal online, and is a matter for law enforcement. The difference is that activities online do not always respect the same boundaries as activities in the real world of jurisdictions, law enforcement, and the courts. But this does not make the activities any less illegal, only more jurisdictionally complex to police and enforce. This does not require new law but better approaches to connecting and coordinating law enforcement across geography of spaces and places. Law enforcement agencies can request information from Internet platforms, but they probably should not outsource law enforcement, as suggested by the cyber harms framework. Cyber space is not the “Wild West” and never was.

Legal, but Potentially Harmful, Activities Can be Managed

The White Paper lists many activities that are not necessarily illegal – in fact some actions are not illegal, but potentially harmful. Cyberbullying is one example. Someone bullying another person is potentially harmful, but not necessarily. It is sometimes possible to ignore or standup to a bully and find that this actually could raise one’s self-esteem and sense of efficacy. A bully on the playground can be stopped by a person standing up to him or her, or another person intervening, or a supervisor on the playground calling a stop to it. If an individual repeatedly bullies, or actually harms another person, then they face penalties in the context of that activity, such as the school or workplace. In many ways, the act of cyberbullying can be useful in proving that a particular actor bullied another person. 

Many other examples could be developed to show how each problem has unique aspects and requires different networks of actors to be involved in managing or mitigating any harms. Many problems do not involve malicious actors, but some do. Many occur in households, others in schools, and workplaces, and anywhere at any time. The actors, problems, and contexts matter, and need to be considered in addressing these issues. 

Augment User Intelligence to Move Regulation Closer to Home

Many are beginning to address the hype surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) as a technological fix.[6] But in the spirit of Douglas Englebart in the 1950s, computers and the Internet can be designed to ‘augment’ human intelligence, and AI along with other tools have the potential to augment the choices of Internet users, as so widely experience in the use of search. While technically and socially challenging, it is possible and an innovative challenge to develop approaches to using digital technology to move regulation closer to the users: with content regulation, for example, being enabled by networked individuals, households, schools, businesses, and governmental organizations, as opposed to moving regulation up to big tech companies or governmental regulators. 

Efforts in the 1990s to develop a violence-chip (V-chip) for televisions provides an early example of this approach. It was designed to allow parents to set controls to prevent young children from watching adult programming. It would move content controls closer to the viewers and, theoretically, parents. [Children were often the only members of the household who knew how to use the V-chip.] The idea was good, its implementation limited. 

Cable television services often enable the use of a child lock for reducing access by children to adult programming. Video streaming services and age verification systems have had problems but remain ways to potentially enable a household to create services safer for children. Mobile Internet and video streaming services have apps for kids. Increasingly, it should be possible to design more ways to control access to content by users and households in ways that can address many of the problems raised by the cyber harms framework, such as access to violent content, that can be filtered by users.

With emerging approaches of AI, for example, it could be possible to not simply have warning flags, but information that could be used by users to decide whether to block or filter online content, such as unfriending a social media user. With respect to email, while such tools are in their infancy, there is the potential for AI to be used to identify emails that reflect bullying behavior. So Internet users will be increasingly able to detect individuals or messages that are toxic or malicious before they even see them, much like SPAM and junk mail can disappear before ever being seen by the user.[7] Mobile apps, digital media, intelligent home hubs and routers, and computer software generally could be designed and used to enable users to address their personal and household concerns. 

One drawback might be the ways in which digital divides and skills could enable the most digitally empowered households to have more sophisticated control over content and services. This will create a need for public services to help households without the skills ‘inhouse’ to grapple with emerging technology. However, this could be a major aspect of educational and awareness training that is one valuable recommendation of the Cyber Harms White Paper. Some households might create a personalized and unique set of controls over content, while others might simply choose from a number of set profiles that can be constantly up-dated, much like anti-virus software and SPAM filters that permit users to adjust the severity of filtering. In the future, it may be as easy to avoid unwanted content as it now is to avoid SPAM and junk mail. 

Disinformation provides another example of a problem that can be addressed by existing technologies, like the use of multiple media sources and search technologies. Our own research found that most Internet users consulted four our more sources of information about politics, for example, and online (one source), they would consult an average of four different sources.[8] These patterns of search meant that very few users are likely to be trapped in a filter bubble or echo chamber, albeit still subject to the selective perception bias that no technology can cure. 


My basic argument is to not to panic in this dystopian climate of opinion and consider the following:

  • Jettison the duty of care regime. It will create problems that are disproportionately greater than the problems to be addressed.
  • Jettison the artificial category of cyber harms. It puts apples and oranges in the same basket in very unhelpful ways, mixing legal and illegal activities, and activities that are inherently harmful promotion of FMG, with activities that can be handled by a variety of actors and mitigating actions. 
  • Augment the intelligence of users. Push regulation down to users – enable them to regulate content seen by themselves or for their children. 

If we get rid of this cyber harm umbrella and look at each ‘harm’ as a unique problem, with different actors, contexts, and solutions, then they can each be dealt with through more uniquely appropriate mechanisms. 

That would be my suggestion. Not as simple as asking others to just ‘take care of this’ or ‘stop this’ but there simply is no magic wand or silver bullet that the big tech companies have at their command to accomplish this. Sooner or later, each problem needs to be addressed by often different but appropriate sets of actors, ranging from children, parents, and Internet users to schools, business and governmental organizations, law enforcement, and Internet platforms. The silver lining might be that as the Internet and its benefits become ever more embedded in everyday life and work. And as digital media become more critical that we routinely consider the potential problems as well as the benefits of every innovation made in the design, use, and governance of the Internet in your life and work. All should aim to further empower users to use, and control, and network with others to control the Internet and related digital media, and not to be controlled by a nanny state.  

Further Reading

Useful and broad overviews of the problems with the cyber harms White Paper are available by Gian Volpicelli in Wired[9] and Graham Smith[10] along with many contributions to the Cyber Harms White Paper consultation.


[1] A solicitor, Graham Smith, has argued quite authoritatively that the White Paper actually “abandons the principles underpinning existing duties of care”, see his paper, ‘Online Harms White Paper Consultation – Response to Consultation’, 28 June 2019, posted on his Twitter feed:  https://www.cyberleagle.com/2019/06/speech-is-not-tripping-hazard-response.html

[2] https://www.bmmagazine.co.uk/news/tech-bosses-could-face-criminal-proceedings-if-they-fail-to-protect-users/

[3] Here I found agreement with the views of Paul Barron’s blog, ‘Response to Online Harms White Paper’, 3 July 2019: https://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/response-to-online-harms-white-paper/ Also, see his book, The Internet, Warts and AllCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

[4] https://inforrm.org/2019/04/30/users-behaving-badly-the-online-harms-white-paper-graham-smith/

[5] Ithiel de Sola Pool (1983), Forecasting the Telephone: A Retrospective Technology Assessment. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 

[6] See, for example, Michael Veale, ‘A Critical Take on the Policy Recommendations of the EU High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence’, October 2019, forthcoming in the European Journal of Risk Regulation, available at: https://osf.io/preprints/lawarxiv/dvx4f/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/03/metoobots-scientists-develop-ai-detect-harassment

[8] See Dutton, W. H. and Fernandez, L., ‘How Susceptible are Internet Users‘, Intermedia, Vol 46 No 4 December/January 2019

[9] https://www.wired.co.uk/article/online-harms-white-paper-uk-analysis

[10] https://inforrm.org/2019/04/30/users-behaving-badly-the-online-harms-white-paper-graham-smith/

Thanks to the Consumer Forum for Communications and Its Chair, Roger Darlington

The Consumer Forum for Communications (CFC) has been an “informal forum hosted by Ofcom, for consumer representation to share information and views with each other , and with people who formulate and implement communications politics that affect consumers.” With announcements of new champions for communication consumers in the news, the CFC will no longer be hosted by Ofcom, but it might continue at least in the short -term as it is largely supported by the voluntary contributions of members’ time and expertise, at least until new consumer advocates are concretely launched.

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the forum since I returned to Britain in July of last year, and have found it to be an inspiring group of committed consumer advocates, representing the various groups of consumers from the general public to more specialised constituencies, such as blind and disabled users of telecommunications, who use British Sign Language as a first language. Forum participants essentially share their observations about developments across the UK and worldwide to raise issues of importance to Ofcom, the industry, and all concerned about supporting the future of communication, telecommunication, and increasingly digital media and communication.

Yesterday, I attended their last meeting under the auspices of Ofcom, and wanted to thank Ofcom for supporting the CFC for many years, but particularly thank the most recent chair, my colleague Roger Darlington, who has been a champion for online child safety before I ever met him, and has chaired a wide array of other public interest groups. He has a blog called ‘Roger Darlington’s World‘, which would be of value to anyone with a serious interest in consumers. Yesterday, Roger completed his 19th meeting as chair over four and one half years.

So let me join all the participants of the CFC and Ofcom in thanking Roger for his service to the forum and consumers of communication. His colleague, Claire Milne, a Visiting Senior Fellow in Media and Communications at LSE, has agreed to shepherd the forum into the next phase of its existence, with all of us hoping that the need for consumer advocates will disappear in the foreseeable future. Best wishes to Roger, Claire, and all the varied categories of consumer (producers) of communication. Much work remains to be done.

Ofcom thanks Roger Darlington for his service as chair of CFC, June 2019

Rethinking Consumers in the Digital Age and Their Role in Shaping Policy, Regulation and Practice

A personal response to Communications Consumer Panel consultation of 25 April 2019

Bill Dutton

12 May 2019

I was a former member and Chair of the Advisory Committee for England, and have followed the Consumer Forum for Communications (CFC) for years. Having returned from working in the US for four years, I’ve also attended the last several meetings of the CFC as an unaffiliated individual. My major involvement in communication has been as an academic, involved in teaching and research on the social implications of the Internet and related media, communication and information technologies. 

Image Courtesy of Arthur Berger

I am pleased to learn of Ofcom’s decision to increase support for the Communication Consumer Panel (CCP), particularly in light of diminished support for the Consumer Forum for Communications (CFC). I have been impressed with the breadth of expertise and exceptional commitment of members of both organizations. However, I have comments on how the work of the CCP might be improved in the coming years.

Let me preface this by noting that the various schemes for organizing committees and individuals outlined in the consultation document on ‘strengthening the consumer voice in the communications sector’ appear to be wedded to a previous era of communication in which there were clear demarcations between the telecommunications industry and its consumers. This distinction is less meaningful today as the general public acts in a variety of roles, such as in producing, providing, sharing, using content, and more—and not just as consumers. 

The mission of the CCP recognizes this in part when saying the body is designed “to protect and promote the interests of consumers, citizens and small businesses in the communications sector by giving advice to Ofcom, the EU, Government, industry and others.” For example, people are increasingly talking about ‘digital citizens’ and using other broad terms that go beyond ‘consumer’. Clearly, the interests of consumers are a huge aspect of the public interest, but serving the public interest in communication is no longer limited to meeting the needs of consumers. And the regulation of communication is increasingly tied to multiple agencies and public officials. Is there a way to move away from this overly simplistic and dated dichotomy between industry and consumer, while also broadening the scope of our definitions of communication? I have a suggestion. 

Instead of creating an ‘industry forum’ and/or creating ‘focused, direct engagement with consumers’, why not create a truly broad communication forum, open to all actors in the design, production, and use of media, communication and information technologies and services, from the post and phones to the Internet of Things? There are tools available today for organizing collective intelligence across the nations of the UK on any topics that actors in this increasingly complex ecology wish to address. If well moderated from the outset, with clear rules of order, such as not posting anonymous comments, and supported by Ofcom, then there is no reason not to have it open to everyone interested in how communication can better serve the public interest. 

An open communication forum – not simply a blog or website – would enable direct involvement with the entire ecology of actors, surface issues before they become problems, and create a source of insights for the CCP that it would never otherwise be able to have at its service. As a forum of Ofcom, this would have the ability to attract input from key actors, and be able to translate what is learned into meaningful discussions at Ofcom and other appropriate agencies with the potential for effecting policy and practice. Given the growing number of industries, companies, SMEs, consumers, and other individuals playing multiple roles in our new communication ecology, why would you not want to exploit new communication technologies to tap the wisdom of civil society to identify and discuss contemporary communication issues in the public interest? 

An open communication forum would not replace the various advisory committees of Ofcom, but complement and inform all of them, and also the officers of the regulator and related agencies and ministries involved with communication, broadly defined. It is possible that state of the practice, off-the-shelf software could be purposed for this role. However, an open forum would need the engagement and leadership of the CCP to enable a national forum for communication in the public interest to thrive. 

Inspiring a Startup Mentality in Legacy IT Organizations – FCC CIO at the OII on 19 June, 4-5pm

Modernizing and Inspiring a “Startup Mentality” in Legacy Information Technology Organizations

Speakers: David A. Bray, Oxford Martin Associate and CIO of the U.S. FCC, Yorick Wilks, and Greg Taylor

19 June 2014 from 4-5 pm

OII Seminar Room, 1 St Giles’, Oxford

By some estimates, 70% of IT organization budgets are spent on maintaining legacy systems. These costs delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost estimate only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

This interactive discussion will discuss the opportunities and challenges with inspiring a “startup mentality” in legacy information technology organizations. Dr. David Bray, will discuss his own experiences with inspiring a “startup mentality” in legacy IT organizations as well as future directions for legacy organizations confronted with modernization requirements. The discussion will be chaired by OII’s Dr. Greg Taylor, and Yorick Wilks, an OII Research Associate, and Professor of Artificial Intelligence in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, will offer his comments and responses to David’s ideas before opening the discussion to participation from the audience.

David A. Bray at OII
David A. Bray at OII

Information about the speakers:

David A. Bray: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/cybersecurity/people/575

Yorick Wilks: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=31

Greg Taylor: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=166

Cities and the Internet: New Perspectives

I’ve certainly been involved in research on the role of new information and communication technologies in shaping local and urban communities, such as with my work on Wired Cities from the late-1970s, when interactive cable communication was expected to support local and interactive communication in ways that would support community. Later I was involved with research on Santa Monica, California’s first electronic city hall, the Public Electronic Network (PEN), and I’ve followed work on information technology and communities since. However, in current discussions of future cities and superfast broadband and cities, I don’t have a clear sense of the dominant perspectives on the societal implications of new technologies. Are they similar to before, but with new technologies, or is there a different perspective on the role of new technology in communities?

I’d welcome tips on where to look, recent work, etc.

Selected Responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter

I worked with several colleagues at the OII (Victoria Nash, Monica Bulger, and Alissa Cooper) to pen responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter, requesting feedback of relevance to the new communications bill. They were submitted under my name as director of the OII, but also as a Co-Principal Investigator of the ESRC Seminar Series, entitled ‘Digital Policy’. In fact, all of these responses were shaped to some degree by discussions that took place at the OII Forum, entitled ‘Digital Policy Issues of the New Communications Bill’, held at the OII on 24 June 2011. A summary of that forum will be distributed in due course. In the meantime, these responses provide some sense of what my colleagues and I took away from the forum.

Question 1

What could a healthier communications market look like? How can the right balance be achieved between investment, competition and services in a changing technological environment?

Many of the questions in this review focus on aspects of competition and industrial policy, however it is our view that for the economic benefits of the Internet to be maximised, attention must also be devoted to closing the digital divide. Efforts such as Race Online 2012 demonstrate that the UK government realizes the significance of access to the Internet in supporting efforts to erase the digital divide, increase participation and enhance digital media literacy. Yet less than 30 percent of adults in the UK report receiving training in media literacy, even though training could promote participation among those with little to no experience (Ofcom, 2011; Livingstone & Wang, 2011). Our view is that access must be paired with understanding of options and risks to promote a healthier communications market.  Based on our 2011 OxIS survey findings, 73 percent of individuals in the UK use the Internet, leaving more than a quarter of the population off the Internet.  Efforts to increase Internet use among Britons has critical significance for 21st century economic and civic participation, but need adequate resources to promote understanding of the associated opportunities and risks.

For earlier OxIS figures see:

Dutton, W. H., Helsper, H. J., and Gerber, M. M. (2009), The Internet in Britain. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Livingstone, S. & Wang, Y. (20110) Media Literacy and the Communications Act. London: LSE.

Ofcom (2011b). UK adults’ media literacy. London: Ofcom.

Question 3

Is regulatory convergence across different platforms desirable and, if so, what are the potential issues to implementation?

This question was discussed at a recent policy forum convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, in which field-leading academics with media, communications and regulatory expertise were asked to consider the proposed Review of the Communications Act. This forum served to reinforce our view that it would be a significant mistake to seek regulatory convergence across platforms if this means imposing a model of broadcast regulation on the Internet. It is often assumed that the Internet is a modern era ‘Wild West’, lawless and unregulated. In fact, the opposite is true – there is already extensive regulation of Internet service provision, content and activities. We would argue that traditional regulatory models for broadcasting, common carriers (such as post or telecommunications) and the press cannot be imposed wholesale on the Internet without serious risks to its vitality and its contribution to the UK economy as well as potential chilling effects of speech. Further analysis of this point can be found in: Dutton, W. H. (2010b), ‘Aiming at Copyright Infringers and Hitting the Digital Economy’, Prometheus, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 385-388, December 2010. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=1778422

Question 13

Where has self- and co-regulation worked successfully and what can be learnt from specific approaches? Where specific approaches haven’t worked, how can the framework of content regulation be made sufficiently coherent and not create barriers to growth, but at the same time protect citizens and enable consumer confidence?

Many different regulatory models have been applied to various aspects of the Internet. Mobile operators in the UK voluntarily adopted industry codes of conduct to limit Internet access to adult content to minors, and to limit the use of location-aware services. Similarly the UK-licensed Internet gambling industry has proved that age verification (at least for the 18 threshold) is possible, and further has been widely recognised to have implemented this so successfully that even the child protection lobby have registered their satisfaction with this system. The UK model for control of illegal content, such as child pornography and hate speech, could undoubtedly benefit from more transparency and judicial oversight, but has broadly proved an effective way to limit the distribution of such material. Such measures are almost all co-regulatory – individual businesses and industry bodies signing up to common codes of conduct or unofficial norms, with the backing (or threat) of legislation.

We do not believe that the Internet requires further heavy-handed regulation, and would propose two principles as a suitable basis for advance:

·       A presumption in favour of ‘democratised regulation’, namely pushing more control to the users and producers of communication and information services – the public. This is not simply another term for self-regulation, as it requires regulatory support at many levels (see below). A good example of democratised regulation would be the currently evolving system for content regulation whereby only extremely limited forms of illegal content (such as child pornography) might be blocked by mandate or on a centralized basis, with users having access to PC-based tools, a ‘home hub,’ or an ISP filtering system that enables them to choose how much content (if any) they want filtered. In this sense, parents, educators and users generally, could be given more control over their own communications infrastructure in a way that is low cost for government and industry.

·       A presumption in favour of regulation only where it is needed to ensure the preservation of a fair, accessible and open Internet, or to protect the most fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or protection from abuse.

I would also like to draw your attention to related post by Roger Darlington at http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/?p=2900 Roger has been posting links to other submissions here: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/

Roger Darlington’s Website: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/convergence.html

David Grahams’ Blog: http://www.attentional.com/david-grahams-blog/2011/05/a-new-communications-bill-is-coming/

Digital Policy Issues for the New Communications Bill

Digital Policy Issues for the New Communications Bill

A Meeting to be held as part of an ESRC Seminar Series entitled ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights

Location: Oxford Internet Institute (OII) Seminar Room, 1 St Giles’, Oxford

Time: 10.00-16.00 on 24 June 2011

An invited group of academics and practitioners will meet at the OII on 24 June 2011 to identify the key policy issues that should be considered in the UK’s new communications bill. Press coverage of the Oxford Media Convention, various interviews over the following months, and an open letter by the Minister, indicate that the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) plans to issue a green paper in the near-future – possibly by the end of the summer or early autumn 2011. Therefore is critical that debate over the key objectives and issues of the new communications bill begins early, before the initial green paper is published. The meeting will be one in an ESRC Seminar Series, entitled ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights’: http://idl.newport.ac.uk/digitalpolicy/ for which I am a co-principal. My colleagues and I are in the early life of this series, but one of our clear aims is to help shape and inform debate about digital policy. It is difficult to think of a more significant focus of a discussion of digital policy in Britain than the forthcoming communications bill. That said, we would define ‘digital policy’ broadly, in the spirit of increasing convergence across the ecology of media and related information and communication technologies, such as the Internet and mobile communication, that are shaping the quality and diversity of communication in the UK and worldwide.

If you would like to join this discussion, please comment on this blog or send a note to <events@oii.ox.ac.uk> at your earliest convenience. We are trying to limit numbers but should be able to bring in individuals that can add to the mix of expertise we wish to assemble on the day. Whether or not you can attend this session, you are invited to send a one-page position paper before the 17th of June, which we will use to identify the key issues. I will edit and collate these for participants on the day, and use them to shape the agendafor the seminar. A key outcome of this meeting is the identification of key issues, but we also hope this meeting will suggest follow-ups to this discussion, which can be organised by the ESRC Seminar Series, or by others, as we seek to broaden and deepen discussion of the communications bill.

A short summary of the seminar will be posted in due course, but do let me know if you wish to attend, and please post or send your thoughts on critical issues. Also consult the event page on the OII Web site for further details at: http://oii.ox.ac.uk/events/?id=445

Launch of New ESRC Research Seminar Series on ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights’

A new ESRC Research Seminar Series on Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights will be launched at University of Wales, Newport, on April 1 2011. This event ‘Digital Wales: Inclusive Creativity and Economy’ is hosted by the School of Art, Media and Design. The main project Web site is at: http://idl.newport.ac.uk/digitalpolicy/

The day features speakers including David Warrender (Director Digital Wales, Welsh Assembly Government), Ian Hargreaves (Cardiff University), William Dutton (Oxford Internet Institute), Lorna Hughes (National Library of Wales), Rhodri Williams (Ofcom), Hamish Fyfe (University of Glamorgan), Panayiota Tatsou (Swansea University), Sangeet Bhullar (Wise Kids), Iain Tweedale (BBC) and the Artist Keynote will be John Goto (University of Derby).

The series led by Gillian Youngs (University of Wales, Newport), Tracy Simmons (University of Leicester), William Dutton (Oxford Internet Institute), Katharine Sarikakis (University of Vienna) will run over two years.

Digital policy is currently high on political, communications and commercial agendas. Controversial areas such as copyright infringement, the future and functions of public service content, and the role of Ofcom are core issues.  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 aims to bring 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 aims to explore 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? 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 will consider connectivity from social and skills-based as well as infrastructural and technical perspectives.

We are currently filling the last few places for the April 1 seminar. If anyone is interested in presenting their research or participating in the series or co-hosting an event as part of it please contact Gillian Youngs (gillian.youngs@newport.ac.uk).

 

Networking Distributed Public Expertise: Strategies for Citizen Sourcing Advice to Government

My paper on ‘Networking Distributed Public Expertise: Strategies for Citizen Sourcing Advice to Government’ is one of a series of Occasional Papers in Science and Technology Policy, Science and Technology Policy Institute (TPI), Institute for Defense Analyses, Washington DC. I will post the abstract below and would welcome comments, directly or to this blog.

Networking Public Expertise

Abstract

The potential of crowd sourcing has captured the imagination of many managers and professionals across all sectors of society, but left many others quite skeptical. This is not only because conceptions of the wisdom of crowds appear counter-intuitive, but also, if taken literally, these concepts can be misleading and therefore dysfunctional for governments seeking to adopt innovations in distributed collaboration. This paper challenges conventional notions of the wisdom of crowds, arguing that distributed intelligence must be well structured by technical platforms and management strategies. After clarifying these conceptual issues, the paper explains how collaborative networking can be used to harness the distributed expertise of citizens, as distinguished from citizen consultation, which seeks to engage citizens – each on an equal footing. Networking the public as advisors aims to involve experts on particular public issues and problems distributed anywhere in the world. The paper then describes the lessons learned from previous efforts to citizen source advice, and why governments should again pursue this strategy as a means to inform policy and decision-making. This is followed by a set of nine strategies for fostering the bottom-up development of governmental initiatives aimed at harnessing distributed public expertise.

 

If there is any difficulty obtaining this paper, a copy is available on SSRN at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1767870

Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights

The ESRC has awarded my colleagues and I support for a seminar series on ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity, and Rights’. This will involve: me and colleagues at the OII, University of Oxford; Dr Gillian Youngs, the principal applicant, recently appointed to a professorship at the Newport School of Art, Media and Design at University of Wales; Dr Tracy Simmons at the University of Leicester; and Professor Katherine Sarikakis at the University of Vienna (2011-13). [ESRC RES-451-26-0849] The project Web site is at: http://idl.newport.ac.uk/digitalpolicy/

Rationale

Digital policy is high on political, communications and commercial agendas currently with the Digital Economy Bill (BIS 2009-10) currently going through Parliament following on from the Digital Britain Final Report in June 2009 (BIS 2009).  While the digital revolution is already well underway in the UK in terms of business developments and changes in daily life, these transitions mark a major policy and legislative push towards Britain’s digital future. Controversial areas such as copyright infringement, the future and functions of public service content, and the role of Ofcom are core to these changes.  In broader terms the potential for economic transformations and growth through the digital economy, new skills, innovation and creativity, are key concerns.

The three core areas of focus of the seminar series offer an original synthesis bringing together consideration of connectivity, creativity and rights to encourage links between technical, political and economic issues. The series will consider connectivity from social and skills-based as well as infrastructural and technical perspectives. Creativity will be 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 in imaginative ways and to their full potential. The benefits to individuals and communities as well as to the economy at large are at stake here. Across the seminar series different aspects of the digital knowledge economy, knowledge work and skills and rights issues will be addressed including from critical perspectives.

An innovative approach of the series will be to examine these areas through multi-stakeholder engagement to identify the practical implications and challenges as well as critical debates about winners and losers in the digital game. It will bring 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.

The organizers of the series recognize that at this moment of profound digital change an inclusive debate of the kind that can only be stimulated by bringing actors with contrasting interests together is crucial. Not least to identify major tensions and concerns as well as opportunities, but also any areas requiring a particular policy focus, including in relation to complex issues of access and digital rights at collective and individual levels. What kind of digital future is envisaged in Britain? Who continues to be left out or at risk of being left out of 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? These are the kinds of questions that are central to this series.

Seminar Format

There will be at least five seminars, with additional seminars possible through support from other sources. The first will be held over two days to launch the series and explore the linking themes in some depth, and then four one-day seminars to focus in detail on separate areas. The aim will be to have some core participants who will attend a number of the seminars and then participants related to each theme for the individual seminars. All seminars will have a mix of stakeholders, ranging across policy, business and civil society, in addition to academics to generate theory/practice connections in fresh and productive ways. The aim will be to involve between 30 and 40 people in each seminar including core group participants (regular attendees) and guest speakers and participants.

Dr Sarikakis

 

 

Tracy Simmons

Gillian Youngs

The series is international. First it aims to examine digital Britain in its global context. Secondly, it aims to do that in part through the direct participation in the series of leading scholars from North America, Canada, Europe and East Asia. Finally, it aims to harness digital media in its own methodology in engagement and outreach terms, such as by using the Internet to extend cost effectively the number of international speakers who can be invovled in the series, and by using the web to enable worldwide access to the series. By experimenting with popular social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the series also aims to contribute to new models of academic practice.

The international contributions to the series are vital when digital communication and problems and challenges affecting it have national dimensions and characteristics but also go well beyond them in creating an era of everyday global communication for leisure as much as work, consumption as much as production. The international aspects of the series will stimulate interesting comparative questions for research, contrasting areas of good practice, varied perspectives on issues such as risk, and different sets of policy priorities and objectives. The international character of the series will also significantly enhance its outputs, both in terms of the text and audiovisual material to be mounted online, but also the academic publications from the series. It is also anticipated  that new international networks will develop out of the series which will give academics at all levels of experience and others involved access to knowledge outside of the UK context. The in-depth quality of the seminars will offer plenty of opportunity for new research collaborations to be generated.

The ESRC Research Seminar Series ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights’ (RES-451-26-0849) runs from 2011 to 2013 led by Prof. Gillian Youngs, University of Wales, Newport, with Dr Tracy Simmons, University of Leicester, Prof. Bill Dutton, Oxford Internet Institute, and Prof. Katharine Sarikakis, University of Vienna.