Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Communication and Media

Abstract

The ESRC has identified a number of potential questions for future work that the scoping review will need to be cognisant of, add to, develop and validate. The team has separated these into seven major foci for the review:
1. Citizenship and politics
2. Communities and identities
3. Communication and relationships
4. Health and wellbeing
5. Economy and sustainability
6. Data and representation
7. Governance and security
In each of these areas the review will explore:
* Use of theory - in particular the review will consider how theories are used both deductively to set up empirical work and/or to provide explanation and conclusions from inductive work. Some key questions around theory will include: How is the digital socially and technically conceptualised? Which theories are predominant in which domains of work? What new theory has been developed, and/or is 'old theory' adequate to the task of explaining the social impacts and use of the digital? To what extent is digital research theoretically or empirically driven? Which concepts and key themes cluster and link regardless of theoretical or empirical approach? Can a new 'theoretical framework' for understanding the digital be generated, and is this needed? To what extent have interdisciplinary approaches modified or developed theory?
* Use of methods - in particular the review will document the range of methods, types of data and research contexts in the examined literature. Some key questions that the review will address include: Which methods predominate in which domains of work? Does the availability of large volumes of digital data change how the digital is studied and/or the approaches taken to the social in a digital world? Are certain methods intrinsically linked to certain domains or theories? How are methods tied to the social contexts around digital research? Have interdisciplinary approaches modified or prioritised in methods in the study of the digital?
The project will explore these questions for each domain through an established approach to systematic reviewing that the ICC has used for prior and ongoing review work. This approach will involve:
* Delphi reviews of expert opinion for each domain
* Systematic review of a combined citation-led and random sampling of the literature
* Dissemination with stakeholder engagement

Planned Impact

This scoping review will provide a more holistic view of how digital technology mediates our lives, and of the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact on each other.
The purpose of the scoping review is to undertake a systematic literature review and synthesis so as to identify gaps in current research and determine where the ESRC should focus any initiative to add most value. A further aim of the scoping review is to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The project will involve an interdisciplinary research team with experience of projects across the social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering and physical science, and medical science.
The project is therefore explicitly designed to impact on ESRC policy but to also engage stakeholders in the discussion of research priorities.

Delphi Interviews: At the core of the project is the collection of evidence and advice from both academic and non-academic stakeholders.

Direct engagement with stakeholder networks: the team intends to make use of key networks that the steering group are already members of. The project will work with the Digital Leaders network as a route to engage private sector, public sector and third sector partners (http://digileaders.com). The PI (Yates) leads the Digital Leaders Research theme. Yates and Helsper are also members of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) Digital Engagement Research Working Group.

Dissemination routes to stakeholders:

* Final report to ESRC
* Two open webinars will be run to cover Domains 1,2,3 and 8, and Domains 4,5,6,7. The webinars will provide an opportunity for academics and stakeholders to interrogate the results available at that point
* Final project academic networking symposium - two-day event with workshops on each of the seven domains and a stakeholder engagement session. This will be jointly hosted with the Digital Leaders Research Theme of the Digital Leaders Network (http://digileaders.com/). It will be held at the University of Liverpool campus in London
* Web based publication of the bibliographies, Delphi workshop outcomes, content and thematic analyses for each domain
 
Description We present here the overall recommendations from the review. The key supporting evidence for these is provided in the following sections with the complete detail in the full report.
Assumptions
In proposing these areas, we have tried to consider the following assumptions:
* This is to be an ESRC programme. The work should therefore have a strongly social science focus, even where it is inter and cross-disciplinary.
* The topics should avoid areas that are already well researched or have been supported by recent or current research council programmes. We have therefore sought to avoid areas served by programmes such as:
* EPSRC Digital Economy
* AHRC Connected Communities and Digital Transformations
* AHRC/MRC medical device design and evaluation
The title of the programme is "ways of being" and we have taken this as an indication that areas need to look more holistically at the social, economic, political, cultural and community impacts and roles of digital technologies.
Priority research areas
From our assessment of the Delphi, literature and workshop outcomes we would recommend that the initial seven 'domains' noted above need to be reduced and reworked. We would propose two main substantive broad research areas for future ESRC work, combining:
* Communication and Relationships with Communities and Identities
* Citizenship and Politics with Governance and Security
We would then suggest four further focused areas that could stand alone or cross cut the two main areas:
* Economy with a focus on the impact of major digital platforms
* Data and digital literacies
* Health and wellbeing focused on workplace, every day and governance issues
* Digital divides and digital inequalities, including the two-way interaction between digital inequities and other areas of social inequity
We have separately made recommendations about work to be undertaken on the social imapcts of automation (see Section 12). We would expect any project to address one or more of the cross-cutting challenges identified in Section 13. Section 14 at the close of the this report provides more detail on each of these areas and suggestions for specific foci within them.
Multi platform/Holistic studies
We would strongly emphasise the need for projects that address multi-platform or holistic studies of digital technology use. The review of the literature to date indicates that much good work has already been done exploring specific technologies and platforms - Twitter, Facebook, Google, Uber, Mobiles, Smart phones, Blogs, specific government systems, etc. The Delphi responses have strongly argued for the need to look at digital technology use in the round. We would argue that the ESRC programme needs:
* To develop a more holistic picture of the integration of digital into citizens lives (or not in the case of digital inequalities).
In other words to ask broad social science questions and then explore which technologies are relevant in that context to citizens actual practices and in what ways. This does not preclude single technology studies where this has relevance, but such decisions should have a strong social science basis - not simply one based on the utility of available data. The one area where this may be more acceptable would be the case of the economic domain as the study of the impact of a platform on a sector might be limited to one technology (e.g. Uber). We would therefore emphasise that digital issues should also be addressed in other priority themes as relevant. We are very aware and our results clearly indicate, that digital issues are also of relevance to:
* Mental health - e.g. the benefits and hazards of lives spent "on screen", use of technology to help maintain mental health
* Housing - e.g. the role of government digital by default approaches to social service delivery, impacts of digital working on mobility and urban space
* Productivity - e.g. automation, AI and the 'gig economy'
* Understanding the macro-economy - e.g. major platforms for economic activity (Amazon) or the role of the CDI sector
We would also strongly argue that funded projects should address one or more of these cross cutting issues:
Methods innovation
* Including risk taking on digital tools - with a strong methods evaluation component
* Theory testing and evaluation, with theory development were needed
* We are agnostic on the need to inherently develop new theory to understand the everyday uses and impacts of digital technologies. There may be a need for greater clarity on 'most relevant' theory and on incremental theory development as opposed to a need for 'digital specific' theory development.
Ethics
* This needs to cover both ethics with regard to methods, but also wider ethical concerns around social, commercial and government use of data, systems automation and human augmentation.
Big data - already well supported
The one area where we would argue that the ESRC should not argue undertake substantive additional investment is in "big data". Not only could we not find consensus on what is "big" in "big data" - nearly all the research councils have substantial investments in big data initiatives. There are substantive ESRC investments in big data and methods (e.g. Consumer Data Research Centre, various PGR training programmes) as well as substantive STFC investment in the necessary computing facilities. We would argue that the programme should be positively open to projects that have a "big data" component but the focus should be on the use of such methods for social science - with a robust element of reflection and evaluation on the usefulness, limitations, tools used to analyse and representativeness of the big data sets examined.
Funding models - suggestions from consultation workshop
The consultation workshop informally reflected on the potential funding models for the programme. Though no strong consensus was obtained the following elements were suggested:
* Strong support for Early Career Researchers - opportunity for those "born digital" to lead digital research projects
* Need for several large projects in the substantive areas identified by the review
* Need for smaller projects (maybe for ECRS) to explore specific facets of the topics
* Need for a co-ordinating network to link the projects and build on the networks created by the review
Two options that were not strongly supported were:
* Single national centre/project * Sandpits
Exploitation Route The final reports were delivered to ESRC to support policy decisions. Upcoming outputs will help outline the state of the art in the relevant fields.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://waysofbeingdigital.com
 
Description Contributed to: Secondment to DCMS as part of the Digital Culture Team Role as Joint Chair of the CMS Digital Skills and Inclusion Working Group Contributions to ESRC and NSF policy on future investments in digital society research Contributions to future research planning by DSTL
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Me and my big data - developing citizens' data literacies
Amount £346,882 (GBP)
Organisation Nuffield Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2021
 
Title Ways of Being Digital Literature Topic Visualisation 
Description Interactive graphs for the Ways of Being literature analysis. Citizenship and Politics Communication and Relationships Communities and Identities Data and Representation Economy and Sustainability Governance and Security Health and Wellbeing 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Interactive graphs for the Ways of Being literature analysis. Citizenship and Politics Communication and Relationships Communities and Identities Data and Representation Economy and Sustainability Governance and Security Health and Wellbeing 
URL https://waysofbeingdigital.com/literature-analysis-interactive-results/
 
Title Ways of Being Literature Database and Analysis 
Description As part of the review, The Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield applied concept modelling techniques to a curated corpus of 1,900 journal articles from the period 1968 to 2017. Concept modelling is a computational linguistic process that involves identifying the emergence of concepts, or key ideas, via lexical relationships. For the purposes of the review, lexical relationships were limited to high frequency co-occurrences of terms as pairs and trios. The process is entirely data driven and resulted in 2 million rows of data. This website provides access to the top 50 most frequently occurring pairs and trios through a series of data visualisations. Concept modelling was developed by the University of Sheffield's School of English and The Digital Humanities Institute as part of the Linguistic DNA project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Provides access to the first round of the Ways of Being Delphi Literature in a searchable format. 
URL https://www.dhi.ac.uk/waysofbeingdigital/