10th Anniversary of OII’s DPhil in Information, Communication & the Social Sciences

It was a real honour today to speak with some of the alumni (a new word for Oxford) of the Oxford Internet Institute’s DPhil programme. A number came together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the DPhil. It began four seemingly long years after I became the OII’s founding director in 2002. So while I have retired from Oxford, it was wonderful to return virtually to congratulate these graduates on their degrees.

The programme, like the OII itself, was hatched through four years of discussions around how the Institute (which is a department at Oxford University) should move into teaching. Immediately after my arrival we began organizing the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme (SDP), which was an instant success and continues to draw top doctoral students from across the world who want to hone their thesis through an intensive summer programme with other doctoral students focused on Internet studies. The positive experience we had with this programme led us to move quickly to set up the DPhil – and four years is relatively quick in Oxford time.

As I told our alumni, the quality of our doctoral students has been largely responsible for the esteem the OII was able to gain across the university and colleges of Oxford. That and the international visibility of the OII enabled the department to later develop our Masters programme, and continue to attract excellent faculty and students from around the world. th-1

I am certain the OII DPhil programme has and will continue to progress since I left Oxford in 2014, such as in adding such strong faculty as Phil Howard and Gina Neff. However, I believe its early success was supported by four key principles that were part of our founding mission:

First, it was anchored in the social sciences. The OII is a department within the Division of Social Sciences at Oxford, which includes the Law Faculty. In 2002, but even since, this made us relatively unique given that so many universities, particular in the USA, viewed study of the Internet as an aspect of computer sciences and engineering. It is increasingly clear that Internet issues are multidisciplinary, and need a strong social science component that the social sciences should be well equipped to contribute. Many social sciences faculty are moving into Internet studies, which has become a burgeoning field, but the OII planted Internet studies squarely in the social sciences.

Secondly, our DPhil emphasized methods from the beginning. We needed to focus on methods to be respected across the social sciences in Oxford. But also we knew that the OII could actually move the social sciences forward in such areas as online research, later digital social science, and big data analytics as applied to the study of society. The OII did indeed help move the methods in the social sciences at Oxford into the digital age, such as through its work on e-Science and digital social research.

Thirdly, while it is somewhat of a cliché that research and teaching can complement each other, this was always the vision for the OII DPhil programme. And it happened in ways more valuable than we anticipated.

Finally, because Oxford was a green field in the areas of media, information and communication studies, with no legacy departments vying to own Internet studies, we could innovate around Internet studies from a multi-disciplinary perspective. And we found that many of the best students applying to the OII were multidisciplinary in their training even before they arrived, and understood the value of multidisciplinary, problem-focused research and teaching.

As you can see, I found the discussion today to be very stimulating. My 12 years at Oxford remains one of the highlights of my career, but it is so much enhanced by seeing our alumni continue to be engaged with the institute. So many thanks to Dame Stephanie Shirley for endowing the OII, and the many scholars across Oxford University and its Colleges, such as Andrew Graham and Colin Lucas, for their confidence and vision in establishing the OII and making the DPhil programme possible.

Remember, the OII was founded in 2001, shortly after the dotcom bubble burst and at a university that is inherently skeptical of new fields. Today the Internet faces a new wave of criticisms ranging from online bullying to global cyber security, including heightened threats to freedom of expression and privacy online. With politicians worldwide ratcheting up attacks on whistleblowers and social media, claiming undue political influence, threats to the Internet are escalating. This new wave of panic around the Internet and social media will make the OII and other departments focused on Internet studies even more critical in the coming years.



Early International Impact of the Oxford Cybersecurity Capacity Center

The Global Cybersecurity Capacity Center at the Oxford Martin School is developing a model and the tools for nations to self-assess their levels of maturity in addressing cybersecurity. I am supporting the Principal Investigator, Professor Sadie Creese, and other co-principal investigators as an Oxford Martin Fellow.

Prof. Sadie Creese
Prof. Sadie Creese

Input from the project team and its international, expert advisory groups, has led to the refinement of a model that identifies key dimensions of cybersecurity, including cultural and other social as well as strategic, legal and technical aspects of a security context. My major focus has been on developing an instrument that will enable teams in particular nations to self-assess their maturity levels in ways that are methodologically sound and replicable.

As the model and associated instruments are being developed, the research team has been working with a variety of nations to help them assess their cybersecurity capacity. In each case, the Oxford project team has been collaborating with key organizations that have helped advise the project and support implementation of the model in a range of international settings.

To date, the team has visited a remarkable number of countries, which have worked with us to implement and help refine our model and indicators of capacity. The team has worked with the Organisation of American States (OAS), supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to visit and review Jamaica and Colombia. The World Bank worked with us to review Armenia, Kosovo, Bhutan and Montenegro. The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) supported our review of Uganda and Fiji. The UK Cabinet Office collaborated with us on a review of the United Kingdom. Indonesia’s Telkom University and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technologies helped with our review of Indonesia. The Government of the Netherlands, under the auspices of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE), worked with us on our review of Senegal. And the British Embassy in Tashkent is supporting our forthcoming review of Uzbekistan. These collaborations will provide valuable lessons for developing the tools and indicators for self-assessment in nations round the world.

In such ways, the Oxford Cybersecurity Capacity Center is having an incredible international impact even during these early stages of developing and refining the frameworks and tools for nations and other organizations to use in self-assessing and building their cybersecurity capacities.

More information about the project is available on the project’s online portal at: www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/cybersecurity-capacity

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies is now available in print and OUP has created a Website for the book: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do  You can find Chapter 1, the introduction, on line and available free, if you’d like an overview of the Handbook. See: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do#.UQ6iIOg7i_E  It was published in late January 2013.

The first paragraph of the preface reads:

“Internet Studies is one of the most rapidly developing interdisciplinary fields of the early 21st Century. With the increasing significance of the Internet, and the range of issues surrounding its use and governance, the field is on a course to continue expanding in its range and diversity through the coming decades. Despite the pace of change, it is a time to take stock of this emerging field, examine current approaches to study of the Internet, and reflect on the field’s future. This was the key motivation behind this handbook.”

It has been published initially in hardback, but OUP usually bring out paperback versions of their handbooks in due course after first publication in hardback, I am hoping that is the case with The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.  Also the handbook will be uploaded to Oxford Handbooks Online (www.oxfordhandbooks.com), an online resource to which many institutions subscribe, and this should enable greater access to the material. So, I hope that for most people seriously interested in Internet Studies, that library acquisition and online access should enable access to the material, particularly if we can make the case for the paperback edition. I am very optimistic about the book’s reception, and therefore its eventual availability in paperback.