EPSRC NetworkPlus on Social Justice through the Digital Economy

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Computing


Technological advances in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, have already given rise to extensive socio-economic transformation and new and emerging technologies, such as distributed ledgers and the Internet of Things, are set to further revolutionise the information and service economy, and public services. Yet, technological innovation has the potential to also dis-benefit the most vulnerable, amplify existing forms of injustice and create new forms of exclusion in socio-economic life, thus further exacerbate socio-economic inequality and social division.

That the whole of society benefits from progress in the Digital Economy is national priority, both morally and economically as those who are most vulnerable have the greatest need of opportunities for socio-economic participation. Taking a Social Justice approach, this NetworkPlus focuses on how the design of new and emerging technologies in the Digital Economy, and their application, can empower, emancipate and more equitably distribute opportunities for economic development to all citizens, consumers and employees. This EPSRC NetworkPlus: Social Justice through the Digital Economy aims to bring together and resource partners from academia, industry, government and civil society to understand, explore and respond, together, to the potential of new and emerging technologies to make the UK socio-economic life fairer for all.

The NetworksPlus activities will focus on three challenge areas: Algorithmic Social Justice; Digital Security for All; Fairer Futures for Businesses and Workforces.

Algorithmic Social Justice examines fairness in the design and application of AI algorithms in automated and semi-automated decision-making processes. It asks how can large data sets be classified and interpreted to inform, for example, care or health interventions programs or city planning and how can AI algorithms be made less opaque and criteria used to design them fairer and transparent.

Digital Security for All investigates new and better ways to model digital security that increase people's sense of agency, while meeting their security needs and protection of assets in public and commercial online service delivery. For example, this challenge area asks in what ways can online services be designed to better support people's sense of agency and trust, while assuring security in sharing personal data online.

Fairer Futures for Businesses and Workforces considers how new 'sharing economy' platforms can be designed to realise more ethical business models and equal opportunities for economic development. For example, this theme asks what platforms can be designed to support peer-to-peer markets places that cater for those who have little or no assets; and what are the implications for a fair workforce representation in the digital era.

The NetworkPlus will enable new ways to support effective collaborations between academic and non-academic communities and organisations through a range of activities, including a curated series on events in the three thematic priorities and an innovative and more directed process of project commissioning. The NetworkPlus will deliver curated events and activities-including symposia, hands-on workshops, theory-hacks and design and development sprints, aiming to increase capacity, upskilling and foster trans-disciplinary dialogue, knowledge exchange between academic and non-academic communities as well as. The NetworkPlus will deliver a novel curated commissioning process of activities designed to support EPS doctoral researchers and Early Career Researchers developing impactful project proposals in partnership with industry, government, third sector and civil society.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of our NetworkPlus: Social Justice through the Digital Economy NetworkPlus are social justice clients (e.g. Charities, National Government bodies and Local Authorities), technology and digital service providers (e.g. SMEs, National and Global Corporations) as well as (formally) un-constituted groups and organizations currently at the margins or altogether excluded from participation in technological innovation and opportunities for socio-economic growth and development (youth, adults with complex needs, aging population, low paid workers, etc.). The NetworkPlus brings value to its beneficiaries through its activities and outputs as follows.

(i) Public, private and third sector organisations and their service users will be able to explore the real-world problems they currently face within each identified challenge area with other experts and organisations who have different expertise but similar concerns through NetworkPlus activities (Symposia, and Open Event Program's Workshops, Theory Hacks and Design and Development Sprints);

(ii) Public, private and third sector organisations and their service users will benefit from participating in pilot /micro projects that directly responds to the specific challenges they face within each identified challenge area: e.g. qualitative studies to better understand issues of fairness in algorithm design and its applications; frameworks for the design and application of AI algorithms within a social justice framework; rapid prototyping and testing of novel and emerging technologies and/or the reconfiguration of existing technologies that applies social justice principles in automated decision-making or that create spaces for agency and trust in online services; new insights to inform policy recommendations for fairer business models and workforce representation in the digital economy.

(iii) NetworkPlus partners not directly involved in a micro/pilot project will benefit from NetworkPlus projects outputs (all with open IP), through our dissemination activities and through NetworkPlus parterns who will advocate and disseminate outputs to their own external networks.

(iv) Through our commissioned policy papers from all projects outputs, the NetworkPlus will benefit and contribute to the ongoing work of advocacy organizations, think tank and regulatory bodies working in each identified challenge area.

(v) Youth groups, primary and secondary school pupils will benefit from the NetworkPlus Youth Engagement Program. The pupils directly involved in our Youth Engagement pilot activities will benefit from spaces to both learn about the issues the NetworkPlus tackles and participate and influence digital innovations arising from NetworkPlus projects; the learning material that will be produced from the Youth Engagement Programme, will be then be piloted by 20 more schools (delivered by schools) with a view to a larger roll out.

(vi) Through our Project Assessment Citizen Panel and through our Community Champion engagement work, marginalized and underserved citizens will have a voice in shaping digital innovations that can ameliorate their lives.



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