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Research Questions

  1. What are the policy implications from different aspects of the UK's connected society?
  2. What are the emerging trends and themes in relation to the UK's connected society?
  3. How can UK society effectively prepare for the impact of new digital technologies to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks?

The impacts of digital technologies in all areas of society have been at the forefront of news and political agendas: from 'fake news' and online extremism through to global cyber-attacks and Artificial Intelligence.

As digital technologies rapidly transform every aspect of our lives, the impact they have on individuals will not be felt equally across society. The UK's 'connected society' needs to address a variety of challenges if it is to benefit from digital technologies. If the digital skills gap is not addressed, then existing inequalities will increase. If proper planning for social and economic disruption does not take place, then many will be excluded from the potential benefits. If the risks around data use and ethics are not anticipated, then public trust will be undermined. And, if empathy and social norms in the online world are not prioritised, then civic engagement and democracy may suffer.

The report summarises the key themes that emerged across four Thought Leadership sessions focused on aspects of the UK's connected society. These covered: digital learning; open science; digital currency; and civic engagement. Delivered in partnership between the Corsham Institute (Ci), RAND Europe and St George's House, Windsor, the Connected Society Thought Leadership programme brought together senior figures from academia, industry, government and not-for-profit organisations.

Key Findings

  • Technology-driven change is outpacing society's ability to manage its impacts.
  • The public's lack of trust in technology has far-reaching consequences for society.
  • Greater planning for adverse social and economic effects from the increasing adoption of digital technologies in society is needed.
  • The traditional role of education and educators has been disrupted due to the increasing adoption of digital technologies among young people.
  • A successful connected society not only needs digital skills, but also shared norms and behaviours among users.
  • Due to digital platforms, it is easier than ever for the public to have a voice, but questions remain as to whether this means that the public is actually being heard.

Recommendations

  • Facilitate cooperation across all sectors, including academics, industry figures and policymakers, to identify and anticipate the challenges posed by digital technologies.
  • Develop a 'roadmap' for the adoption of new digital currencies, which incorporates evidence on the public's attitudes and awareness, and its potential social and economic impact.
  • Improve general awareness among the public of their responsibilities when interacting in the online world, and on the protection and use of their personal data, particularly its use by third parties.
  • Encourage the development of digital education programmes to target those most at risk of being left behind in the 'digital divide'.

Research conducted by

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

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