ESRC Digital Good Network


Appreciating the value of the network when researching the digital good 

Digital Good Network Postdoctoral Researchers, Danielle Paddock and Kim Snooks, reflect on what they gained from their recent visit to the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy.

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* Photograph credit and caption at bottom of page.

In April 2024, we were given the opportunity through the Digital Good Network (DGN) to visit the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy (MCTD) at the University of Cambridge.

We were lucky enough that our trip coincided with the Technology and Democracy Conference organised by MCTD. This was an incredible opportunity: spending two days with academics, industry professionals, policy makers and government officials to discuss technology and democracy. 

Featuring three panel discussions, we gained fruitful and fascinating insights on the following topics: 

  • What are the stakes for technology and democracy?
  • Technology and democracy for whom?
  • Strengthening democracies in 2024 and beyond.

There were also two fantastic keynote presentations. In ‘Questioning Power’, Professor Payal Arora challenged the Westernised sentiment of technology as a negative tool and highlighted the optimistic view of technology from users in the Global South. 

Professor Wendy ChunThis was followed by Professor Wendy Chun‘s keynote about ‘Re-building Trust’. Aligning closely with the Digital Good Network’s own inter-disciplinary approach, she highlighted that no single discipline can answer all the complex questions about digital technology in everyday society; instead, disciplines should be brought together on this work – even if they do not always agree on everything!

In addition to the panel discussions and keynote presentations, there were four simultaneous working group sessions. These were designed to facilitate informal discussions on a range of technology and democracy topics including: ‘online safety and safety by design’; ‘technology data infrastructure’, ‘AI in the street: ensuring AI works for all’. 

Our personal (slightly biased) favourite was ‘How do we define and measure the ‘good’ in digital society?’. This excellent discussion featured contributions from a range of perspectives about how the concept of ‘good’ is both understood and valued currently. It has helped us think about the ways in which we think about ‘good’ moving forward, both in our individual research projects and in the network more broadly. 

A highlight for both of us was the conference dinner hosted at Magdalene College, which consisted of a candlelit three course meal with beautiful food and an excellent opportunity for further networking with new colleagues. 

After an excellent conference, we also attended the MCTD Researchers’ Forum. Here, we both presented our Digital Good Network research projects which we found invaluable. Having questions, comments and interdisciplinary discussions about our work has helped us to think about new perspectives on our projects. We found this particularly helpful for understanding how to create the needed impact from our projects, and we are considering how we can use the suggestions from this forum in the later stages of our work. 

Finally, we ended the week on a high! On our last day we attended a practical policy engagement workshop delivered by the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge. This one-day workshop focused on transforming our research and expertise into evidence for select committees and policy briefs. With advice from CSaP, as well as policy experts in both government and third sector organisations, we identified societal issues and questions to help us adapt our research and expertise into recommendations for policy makers. Although quite early on in terms of our DGN project findings, we found this a useful workshop to help us think about the ways our research may inform policy moving forward. We can now start thinking about this throughout the research lifecycle of our respective projects, rather than towards the end of our projects to ensure the greatest impact. 

Our visit to the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy really has been invaluable and we are both excited to extend our learnings and discussions with the wider DGN team and our research community. We also managed to fit in some sight-seeing too and we can confirm that Cambridge is a beautiful city. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work alongside the MCTD and would like to thank Professor Gina Neff and the wider MCTD team for hosting us, as well as the Digital Good Network for making this possible.

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Danielle’s research project about the role of mobile phones on people’s relationships can be viewed here.

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Kim’s research project about good digital identity futures can be viewed here.

* Photograph from the Policy Engagement Workshop delivered by the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), University of Cambridge. People from left to right: Clytie Tian (RA for Digital Good Research Project: Low-resource settings of Africa), Dr Danielle Paddock (Digital Good Postdoctoral Researcher), Dr Kim Snooks (Digital Good Postdoctoral Researcher), Nicky Buckley (Director, Fellowships and Networks, Centre for Science and Policy), Christian Neubacher (Policy Engagement Planning Coordinator, Centre for Science and Policy), Professor Gina Neff (Executive Director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology & Democracy and Associate Director of the Digital Good Network).