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A truly ‘Digital Society’?

The phrase ‘Digital Society’ is of course now in common usage by hundreds of organisations, charities, businesses, innovators and our local and national governments, but how often do they, or we, step back and consider what it really means and the implications that surround it?

Is its development increasingly to be led by corporations with new platforms and apps, driven by data mining and profit? Is it to be a top down model where vital public sector services are corralled online, whilst a large percentage of people are excluded by poor connectivity or a lack of skills and their access to the services they need restricted?

Will new digital health apps, platforms and revolutionary personalised medical tools become available to all, especially the patients who need them most, or be there only for those who can afford them?

With data breaches day after day hitting the headlines of the national press, will people trust platforms enough to continue to submit their truly personal information online into the future?  How can platforms that are secure and trustworthy be developed and then sustained against smarter and more sophisticated hacks and attacks, or is there a better model going forward?

Corsham Institute, as an agnostic, not for profit, educational and research centre is focussed on a wide range of work that addresses these fundamental questions for the 21st Century.

At a societal level, Ci is working practically to find real-life and real-time models for trusted platforms and open, accessible, digital communities. These are not theoretical or top down models to be imposed, but active, developed, community-led solutions for the future, that can then be rolled out in our villages, towns and cities.

In Corsham, a market town in Wiltshire, 7 miles from Bath, Ci’s Digital Communities programme leads the initiative with Digital Corsham engaging local businesses, local charities, schools and community groups in new ways and through multiple platforms.

Our Digital Societal vision is an inclusive one and is not an end in itself, but one where the physical society itself is made more cohesive, where silos and barriers are softened and merged, where people begin to understand different groups of citizens around them more.

Our three level model is one that starts with the basic human right of connectivity. The right to be able to connect to the Internet is so important that it was recognised by the United Nations in 2011 as a fundamental human right, the need for which has grown exponentially ever since.

Connectivity has to become universal and ubiquitous, developed as a basic utility, equivalent to the electricity we depend on every day or the clean water we expect to come from our taps. This right to connect becomes ever more vital as more public services are delivered online and the IoT connects more and more of the objects around us. There is a huge amount of work to be done on the ethics of data and the right future model for the delivery of connectivity based on trust.

The second tier in our Digital Community model is engagement, designed to give people reasons to want to connect through rich content about their community. Developed with over 30 years of experience in the media, our local digital television platform is already delivering significant local content and engaging more and more groups in our communities.

Engagement is also led across multiple platforms from community led content on a partner, internet-delivered, community radio station, through weekly podcasts of people talking about their community, interaction through a range of social media platforms, a business incubation programme of support to digital businesses and innovators, the development and encouragement of clusters of existing and growing digital and cyber businesses and the physical widespread engagement with all sectors, decision makers, digital champions and influencers in the community.

The process is already opening up local democracy, with plans in place to begin streaming local Area Boards and Town Council meetings, to make them available to digital community audiences.

With a reason to connect, our third tier of interaction can increasingly be reached and further developed as new networks are built and people’s behaviour and engagement with their own physical space and community is transformed and enhanced. In turn, this develops a positive virtuous circle of digital engagement enabling further interaction.

As this model develops and its roll-out is increasingly realised, it has to grow through organic development and become led and owned by the community itself.  We have established a Ci Digital Communities Practitioner Group of different sectors of the community to ensure that the direction and the implementation of the Programme works across all levels and the developments we introduce are not hidden or imposed, but open to discussion and comment and most importantly change.

Corsham Institute’s Digital Communities programme will be expanding and engaging with additional communities during 2016, so further lessons can be learnt.

The results will be invaluable as many communities, organisations, companies and government come to grips with a positive and deliverable vision of a truly ‘Digital Society’.

The Internet of Trust

Building trust is the responsibility of every digital stakeholder in the UK, is the clear message of a new report, ‘Trust in Personal Data’ published by the Digital Catapult, which concludes that,“building that trust will be one of the key dependencies in creating better citizen services and improving the way we all live”.

In a far reaching survey of over 4,000 consumers in Q1 of 2015, it assesses the UK’s journey to becoming a data-driven nation and in Dame Wendy Hall’s foreword she rightly states that the public not only need to “trust the organisations holding and using their data, but also to fully understand why the data is needed….and without this digital literacy we are at risk of losing out in the race towards a digital-first society”.

That data is only as useful as the insight it creates, was one of the key themes from the recent Digital 2015 conference and there was a sense in a number of the presentations that too many organisations are racing to create ever more online platforms to produce an exponential level of data without necessarily bringing a public understanding of why, what, when and how their data will be used.

Data, its use and the policies, aims and ambitions that lie behind its collection, are at the core of the work that the Corsham Institute is developing around trust and how citizens and communities can benefit from all of the data that is collected from them. The Digital Catapult survey shows that the majority of people would be happy to share their information if it was to be used to benefit society as a whole, such as in healthcare and education.

All of our interaction with the digital world today and increasingly over the coming years as the Internet of Things make ever more objects around us connected, raises both policy questions as well as many practical issues about how people can trust the way that their data is used.

Cisco for instance, discussing the Internet of Everything at Digital 2015, estimated that 50 billion ‘things’ will be connected by 2020 and by the end of next year internet traffic will reach a Zettabyte. To save you getting the calculator out, 1ZB is equal to a trillion Gigabytes or a billion Terabytes of data.

The majority of us probably click our acceptance of various company’s data privacy policies, or acknowledge regularly updated ones, without too much pause for thought in our online haste to acquire a product or service and then experience targeted advertising that uses our own data turned back on ourselves. Nearly 80% of those surveyed for the Digital Catapult report believe their data is being used solely for an organisation’s economic gain.

At the Digital 2015 conference, it was noted that in regard to online services or email providers, that if you’re not paying for the service, then in reality, you are not actually the customer of it, but you and your information become the product itself, as your data will be used for a myriad of purposes outside of your control.

As the internet develops even further, the use of data will become an ever greater issue as people become more aware of its use and begin to query more what rights and information they are clicking away by the, all too simple, acceptance box.

With one of the aims for digital services defined in the UK Government’s White Paper on Digital Society in 21st Century Britain, that people develop into‘digital citizens’, who use IT to “engage in politics, society, discourse, government and the economy”, and as more and more national and local services are delivered online through the transformation of public services, the debate around trust will need to become the focus of much more research to ensure people are still willing to engage online with everything that is available to them.

94% of those questioned for the Digital Catapult report would like to be more in control of the data they share, how they share it and what they get for it, so there is great potential for products and services to be created to meet the need for the management of personal data.

Through the highly connected ‘living laboratory’ that Digital Corsham will provide, the Corsham Institute will offer the ideal platform for academics and industry to conduct research programmes in this area and we will connect wide-ranging capabilities to test a broad palette of digital initiatives, app development and new technologies that could become future, essential models for our digital society, with initiatives and platforms that can be trusted and used by all citizens with real confidence that their privacy and data are protected.

Only then will the Internet of Trust become a reality.

To read the full Digital Catapult report ‘Trust in Personal Data: A UK Review’, follow this link: and to find out more about Digital 2015 the link is

Corsham TV & the General Election 2015

GE2015 count.jpeg

With Corsham TV filming overnight at the General Election count for the Chippenham constituency, streaming the result live via the Periscope app and then editing video packages that were ready to view online on Corsham TV by breakfast time, in addition to the Channel’s coverage of the Corsham Hustings and candidate videos, our digital online audience has now increased to over 10 times the number of people who engaged physically at the General Election Hustings themselves.

We’ve now been approached by a University to begin feasibility work on a research programme, so that before the next elections, local or national, we begin to study the relationship between digital engagement and voter turnout, to assess in greater depth the impact within digital communities.

Corsham TV is an initiative delivered by Digital Corsham, part of the Digital Communities  Programme from the Corsham Institute.