Connected Society Thought Leadership Programme

The pervasiveness and ubiquity of all things digital have accelerated over the last 20 years and continue to grow exponentially. Digital technology is becoming increasingly intertwined with everyday life: from schooling and education, to political engagement, and even financial and health management. Developments in digital technology, and the speed at which they come, drive innovation and new applications that touch our lives in different and often profound ways. While there are numerous opportunities and aspirations associated with digitalisation, there is a crucial need to understand and mitigate the challenges it presents to society.

RAND Europe worked in partnership with the Corsham Institute to design and deliver Thought Leadership Programmes for two years at St George’s House, Windsor Castle. From 2016 through 2017, the programmes explored the opportunities and challenges that digital technologies are creating within society.

2017 Consultations

In 2017, the programme was comprised of four consultations on digital learning, open science, digital currency and civic engagement. During these four consultations, key themes were outlined that will have a number of implications for policymakers and researchers involved in the UK’s connected society:

  • 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 is being 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 members of the public are actually being heard.

Digital Learning

Digital technology’s role in enabling skills development for a connected world

preschool students using tablet with teacher

Technology is increasingly being used to deliver education, knowledge and skills in new and innovative ways. Coupled with future changes to the mode and pattern of work and the economic shock posed by the current political climate, we need to consider how digital technology can best support individuals to develop the skills needed to attain maximum benefit from its use in work and social situations, as well as help to create stronger societal norms when using digital technology and ensure appropriate behaviour online.

This consultation took place on 6–7 March. RAND Europe experts participating in the event included Axelle Devaux, Julie Belanger, Sarah Grand-Clement and Catriona Manville.

Open Science

The citizen’s role and contribution to research

Students engage in citizen science by playing the brain-mapping game EyeWire

Scientific knowledge generation in this digital age is evolving and an organic movement of independent citizen scientists is increasingly demonstrating that the pursuit of the scientific endeavour need not be the domain of professional scientists alone. Digital interconnectedness is fostering the collaboration of researchers and the public from all over the world to generate research ideas, design cutting-edge research, identify funding opportunities and collect or supply data in pursuit of some of the most pressing scientific research problems of our time. Novel methods of innovative research are becoming possible through these revolutionary modes of engagement, and contributing to the democratization of knowledge, while activating citizens by raising community awareness about societal problems at the local, as well as the global stage.

This consultation took place on 6–7 April. RAND Europe experts participating in the event included Hans Pung, Elta Smith, Sarah Parks, Anna Knack and Catriona Manville.

Digital Currency

Redefining the way we transact in a digital world

Euros and binary numbers

As digital technology creates new and different ways to transact we have witnessed the emergence of new forms of currency and transaction platforms to support different methods and types of value exchange. New methods of transaction could have wider economic and social implications with regard to the extent of government control over the economy; the structure of traditional models of tax, social security and pensions; and the role of individuals and communities in the wider financial system. Because the landscape of innovations in this sphere is broad and fast moving, thought should be given to the potential impact of these changes on wider society, and how they could be harnessed by government, communities and individuals for societal good.

This consultation took place on 4–5 May. RAND Europe experts participating in the event include Salil Gunashekar, Jon Freeman, Katherine Stewart and Catriona Manville.

Civic Engagement

How can digital technology encourage greater engagement in civil society?

Person touching like buttons connected together. Concept about marketing, reputation management and social media networking

Digital technologies offer enhanced and expanded opportunities for citizens to engage in civil society and democratic processes. Social media, petition platforms, crowdfunding sites and other online forums and tools offer new means for individuals to contribute to shaping political debate and drive ‘real-world’ change. The prospects are exciting, but the challenges are significant and complex. Addressing risks posed by the spread of misinformation online, the personalisation of our online experience (or ‘filter bubble’), inequalities in terms of digital access and skills, and ensuring that online activism does translate into positive social change offline, will be crucial for harnessing the potential of digital technologies to support stronger, more inclusive democracies.

This consultation took place on 26-27 June. RAND Europe experts participating in the event included Axelle Devaux, Talitha Dubow and Christian van Stolk.