Centre for Digital Citizens - Next Stage Digital Economy Centre

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

Abstract

The Centre for Digital Citizens (CDC) will address emerging challenges of digital citizenship, taking an inclusive, participatory approach to the design and evaluation of new technologies and services that support 'smart', 'data-rich' living in urban, rural and coastal communities. Core to the Centre's work will be the incubation of sustainable 'Digital Social Innovations' (DSI) that will ensure digital technologies support diverse end-user communities and will have long-lasting social value and impact beyond the life of the Centre. Our technological innovations will be co-created between academic, industrial, public and third sector partners, with citizens supporting co-creation and delivery of research. Through these activities, CDC will incubate user-led social innovation and sustainable impact for the Digital Economy (DE), at scale, in ways that have previously been difficult to achieve.

The CDC will build on a substantial joint legacy and critical mass of DE funded research between Newcastle and Northumbria universities, developing the trajectory of work demonstrated in our highly successful Social Inclusion for the Digital Economy (SIDE) hub, our Digital Civics Centre for Doctoral Training and our Digital Economy Research Centre (DERC). The CDC is a response to recent research that has challenged simplified notions of the smart urban environment and its inhabitants, and highlighted the risks of emerging algorithmic and automated futures. The Centre will leverage our pioneering participatory design and co-creative research, our expertise in digital participatory platforms and data-driven technologies, to deliver new kinds of innovation for the DE, that empowers citizens.

The CDC will focus on four critical Citizen Challenge areas arising from our prior work: 'The Well Citizen' addresses how use of shared personal data, and publicly available large-scale data, can inform citizens' self-awareness of personal health and wellbeing, of health inequalities, and of broader environmental and community wellbeing; 'The Safe Citizen' critically examines online and offline safety, including issues around algorithmic social justice and the role of new data technologies in supporting fair, secure and equitable societies;
'The Connected Citizen' explores next-generation citizen-led digital public services, which can support and sustain civic engagement and action in communities, and engagement in wider socio-political issues through new sustainable (openly managed) digital platforms; and 'The Ageless Citizen' investigates opportunities for technology-enhanced lifelong learning and opportunities for intergenerational engagement and technologies to support growth across an entire lifecourse. CDC pilot projects will be spread across the urban, rural and costal geography of the North East of England, embedded in communities with diverse socio-economic profiles and needs.

Driving our programme to address these challenges is our 'Engaged Citizen Commissioning Framework'. This framework will support citizens' active engagement in the co-creation of research and critical inquiry. The framework will use design-led 'initiation mechanisms' (e.g. participatory design workshops, hackathons, community events, citizen labs, open innovation and co-production platform experiments) to support the co-creation of research activities. Our 'Innovation Fellows' (postdoctoral researchers) will engage in a 24-month social innovation programme within the CDC. They will pilot DSI projects as part of highly interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder teams, including academics and end-users (e.g. Community Groups, NGO's, Charities, Government, and Industry partners). The outcome of these pilots will be the development of further collaborative bids (Research Council / Innovate UK / Charity / Industry funded), venture capital pitches, spin-outs and/or social enterprises. In this way the Centre will act as a catalyst for future innovation-focused DE activity.

Planned Impact

The Centre for Digital Citizens (CDC) will collaborate with its large network of partners to provide routes to impact. The co-created nature of the research programme will ensure that it addresses the real-world needs of our partner organisations, from inception through to exploitation. Below we summarise key impacts that the Centre will have, split out by beneficiary:

1) Commercial / industry partners: Will benefit from direct tech-transfer from research projects; the development of new citizen data commons resources, which will have commercially exploitable value and support new kinds of digital service; ethical guidelines and best practice knowledge transfer for the design of socially inclusive and fair digital services; and new spin-out developments and social enterprise creation, designed to work collaboratively with industry partners, creating new business opportunities.

2) Venture capital funders: Will benefit from access to a new source of piloted, user-led and co-created digital technology platforms and services, available for financing and development.

3) Government: Will benefit from future public service delivery policy development. We will continue to inform Government agencies around best practice, addressing issues of digital citizenship, including local government service provision, civic engagement / consultation and urban planning. There will be tech transfer through Local Government adoption of digital platforms. We will work with cross-council authorities (North of Tyne Combined and NE LEP) to reconcile policy and service commissioning recommendations across authority boundaries.

4) Charities and third sector groups: Are underserved communities receiving relatively little support from the digital sector, often due to their budgetary constraints, yet are increasingly important for citizens to access services and experience citizenship. DERC and Digital Civics work has shown this sector offers a rich and vibrant economy that would benefit from greater adoption of digital platforms to help commission, deliver and coordinate services. New kinds of digital economies could thrive with new kinds of digital service developed through the CDC. These services will offer direct economic benefit such as cost savings, efficiencies and increased organisational reach, to charities and third sector groups.

5) Learning communities: Lifelong learning platforms developed by the CDC will provide opportunities for educational enrichment and digital skills development at a number of levels. Such opportunities will be provided within schools and beyond including reskilling post-formal education. This is likely to have an impact on the numbers of skilled people in work, and could provide numerous opportunities for older adult (including peri-retired and retired) populations.

6) Citizens and local communities: large numbers of citizens (estimated 1000+) will benefit from involvement in either social innovation pilots or the Citizen's Assembly. Pilots will be embedded in NE communities with unmet needs and whose sense of citizenship is impacted by health inequality, online harms, a lack of community infrastructure and connectivity, and limited lifecourse development opportunities. The CDC will also provide new data resources, and models of common data ownership and re-use. These will pilot direct economic benefits for citizens and provide new routes to activism and campaigning on local issues. Those using services piloted through the CDC will also receive the wellbeing benefits of more and better service access, and greater participatory voice in service development and provision.

7) DE Researchers: will benefit from Digital Social Innovation training. The pipeline of DE trained researchers will be increased, in academic, government, commercial and third sectors. With a broad range of skills, these researchers will directly contribute to the digital economy and will provide increasing levels of social innovation.

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