Research Question

  1. What are the opportunities and challenges that digital technologies are creating within society?

To deepen our understanding of the impact of the digital presence in our lives, the Corsham Institute, in partnership with RAND Europe, designed and delivered the 2016 Thought Leadership programme at St George's House, Windsor, to explore the opportunities and challenges that digital technologies are creating within society. This report summarises key findings from the four sessions and discusses overarching themes.

During individual, day-long sessions, participants, including senior figures from academia, industry, government and third-sector organisations, examined four key topics; Digital Health; Cyber and Resilience; Digital Living; and Trust and Ethics. The consultations which took place under the St George's House protocol and the Chatham House Rule, to afford participants the opportunity for robust debate, knowledge sharing and personal reflection. Adopting such an approach enabled new thinking and ideas to emerge on how everyone in society can benefit from the advantages created by digital technologies.

Key Findings

Five strategic themes emerged from discussions:

Re-balancing the control of data

  • As personal data becomes an increasingly valuable resource, it is more and more difficult to track how such data is captured, stored, shared and analysed by third parties, leaving individuals feeling as if they have no control over its use.

Placing equalities at the centre of future plans

  • While digital has the potential for significant economic and social benefits, it can also magnify the gap between those elements of society that have connectivity and the means to access new services, and those that do not.

Changes to work and skills

  • The increasing use of digital technology in the workplace will see significant changes to modes and patterns of work. As digital becomes a stronger feature of the workplace, individuals will require new and different skill sets to remain economically active.

Awareness and behaviour change

  • There is a need to raise awareness across society of the opportunities that digital can provide, while also educating people to the challenges and emerging risks. A new narrative is needed to communicate the benefits and at the same time make individuals more digital-savvy.

Increasing reliance on automation

  • A key benefit of digital is the ability to assimilate multiple data sources and support more effective and automated decision-making. This change has seen an increased reliance on algorithms and, more recently, on the use of artificial intelligence in every aspect of digital, from selecting newsfeeds of interest through to supporting health diagnoses and prioritising public services.

Recommendations

  • In addition to the strategic themes, two additional ideas were consistently raised by participants. Firstly was the desire for a new narrative, capable of articulating the great opportunities that digital can deliver, but also highlighting the challenges we face as a highly connected society.
  • Secondly, there is a perceived need to prepare a Charter of Digital Rights and Responsibilities. Such a Charter will sit alongside the new narrative for digital, setting out in accessible language, the role and responsibilities that everyone needs to play if we are to create a more inclusive, safe and equal digital society.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Europe.

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