ESRC Digital Good Network


Emerging notions of the ‘digital good’ in our kick off events

Since the Digital Good Network launch in early March, we have held webinars with over 200 attendees, a sandpit to connect researchers across disciplines and sectors, and we have received lots of applications for our PhD researcher summer school. We are delighted to see so much interest in the digital good!

Blog by our Director, Helen Kennedy, on 6 April 2023.

Across all of these activities, different notions of the digital good are beginning to emerge. The first webinar, on 7 March, saw the Digital Good Network’s three directors, Ros Williams, Gina Neff and me, Helen Kennedy, speak about the importance of equity, sustainability, and resilience for conceiving of the digital good. In the second webinar, Abi Millings talked about how psychology might think about good digital relationships, Dan Richards presented his ideas about design for digital good, Jonathan Ong talked about how the digital good is far from clear-cut, and Scott Hale focused on how computational methods for identifying online harms might be adapted for the digital good. If you missed these events, we have uploaded the recordings.

For our third webinar, three early career scholars who have been successful in securing funding from initiatives similar to the Digital Good Network shared insights on how to align applications with calls, building a research team, and leading projects at an early career stage. They were: Neelima Sailaja and Robin Steedman who received funding from the EPSRC Human-Data Interaction Network+, and Louise Hickman, whose work has been supported by DIGIT’s (Digital Futures at Work) Innovation Fund.

Digital Good 01
Image by Eyedea Studio for Living With Data

As the Digital Good Network Management Team, we’re asking ourselves what is the most ‘digitally good’ way to carry out our work. We included live captioning in our webinars to increase their accessibility. Speakers provided brief descriptions of themselves to paint a picture for attendees with visual impairments. We have recently learnt that our Digital Good Research Fund application form doesn’t work well with screen readers – we’ll make changes to it in the next round, so it is more accessible.

But there is no one, obvious answer to the question of what is a ‘digitally good’ way for us to operate. Sandpits are interactive discussion spaces, and ours aimed to connect people with other ‘digital good’ stakeholders with a view to potentially forming teams to bid to the Digital Good Research Fund. As such, we could only invite about half of the 120 applicants to the sandpit to participate. No doubt some applicants who weren’t invited were disappointed, and the same will apply to unsuccessful summer school applicants. We’re trying to be explicit about our selection criteria and processes so people can understand why their applications are or are not selected. And there will be more opportunities to engage with us during the course of our five years of network building.

In the sandpit, for some participants, there was too much Miro board activity in one of our interactive sessions. Others would have preferred thematic small group work to the interdisciplinary groups that we arranged to meet our aim of facilitating connectivity across disciplines and building an interdisciplinary network.

We can already see different notions of the digital good surfacing at this early stage of our work. For some, a ‘good’ approach to building a digital good network is to include everybody who wants to be included. For others, it is connecting with others with shared values. These things are important to us too. So is prioritising groups who are under-represented within the digital society research community and who are disadvantaged, marginalised or minoritised in society more broadly. Addressing the challenge of interdisciplinarity when approaches, values, priorities are not the same is also something that we feel we must do, if we are to advance understanding of how to achieve the digital good.

Navigating these potentially conflicting interpretations of the good digital society and seeking synergies across them is one of the Digital Good Network’s main aims in the coming years.