New £10m centre aims to improve ‘sociodigital futures’

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A new research hub called The Centre for Sociodigital Futures aims to drive the use of future digital technologies toward more sustainable and accessible ways of life.

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Based at Bristol University, the centre is a £10m flagship government investment from the UKRI’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The funding is part of a £49m investment which will see the creation of other centres to support policing, trade policy, early years education and social care.

Experts globally will unite at the centre to ‘investigate how different claims about digital futures shape our lives today’, exploring technologies with potential to transform everyday life such as intelligent robots and autonomous vehicles.

Creating a network of researchers with expertise spanning social sciences, engineering and arts, the centre will also feature strategic partnerships with BT, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Cyber Security Centre amongst others.

Professor Susan Halford, director of the ESRC Centre for Sociodigital Futures said: “We’re living in a ‘sociodigital world’, where digital technologies, devices and data are an integral part of our societies. 

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“We can see this throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turbocharged investments in sociodigital transformations and changed everyday lives – from how and where we work, to how children learn, and how we consume good and services.”

Halford said that the centre will examine what claims about these technologies mean for ‘major challenges of our time’ such as the climate crisis and widening inequalities. 

“Working with our partners, our goal is to make sociodigital futures accessible in ways that will have direct impact on policy-making, organisational practice, community participation and technology creation,” she added.

The Bristol-led hub is a five-year collaboration with the University of the Arts London, Edinburgh University, Birmingham University, Lancaster University and Goldsmiths University of London.

International academic partners from across four continents include University of Naples Federico II in Italy, The New School in the US, OsloMet University in Norway, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and University of New South Wales in Australia.

“We are surrounded by big claims about how digital technologies will shape our futures,” said Professor Dale Southerton, deputy director of the centre. “These claims are important because they drive corporate investments, government policies, business strategies and inform hopes and fears in our daily lives. 

“Yet the future rarely turns out as predicted, as technologies interact with the realities of everyday life. That’s why we need to have a better understanding of the many ways in which ideas and claims about the future are shaping lives now.”