The proposed research project is based on the premise that trust and empathy underpin social equality, and a lack of trust can lead to social exclusion and issues in power dynamics. Although digital use (as a whole) has increased in the UK, this usage may not ameliorate social inequality or alter community disconnection. In fact, some attempts at digital inclusion may actually lead to greater social exclusion and alienation. As noted by Helsper (2012), digital and social inclusion are impacted by social, cultural and psychological factors, such as power and trust, alongside issues of access, motivation and confidence. Ten years ago, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2004) produced a report on power and the co-production of community trust in investigations of the digital divide. It suggested that digital resources are powerful tools that can aid in the reparative process of community building and reconnection. Ten years on, research has examined these issues separately, but no research has drawn all of the strands together, addressing the development of, and relations between, power, (mis)trust, empathy and exclusion/inclusion. This novel and timely research project examines the ways that trust (and legacies of mistrust) can lead to social exclusion and power imbalances within minority communities (broadly defined) impacted by digital exclusion in the UK. It does this by using: i) large-scale data analysis of the relation between digital inclusion and empowerment; ii) localized and sustained community-centred activities to investigate the links between digital disempowerment, social exclusion and trust; iii) ethnographic fieldwork and community focus groups to map trust and power offline and online; and iv) participatory community interaction along with the design and implementation of innovative hyper-local technologies to gather and visualise real-time data on community trust. Pilot groups will be consulted on the design of these technologies and, again, before they are deployed to community test sites for evaluation. The final product of these exchanges and data collection is the design of a ‘Trust Map’–digital visualization prototype of trust. By investigating the interplay between trust, power, empathic behaviour between communities and social (in)equality, the project tests the transformational potential of online resources or tools for mitigating social injustice. While the project will map community trust between members and toward structures of authority, it will also map the next ‘turn’ in digital social research (Jankowski 2007); not just the creation of new technology to increase digital use and access to social services (Digital Inclusion Team 2007), but novel solutions to social problems through the use of digital engagement. This aspect of ‘digital’ as power is a significant one as digital currency becomes less of a choice and more a necessity in order to exist as an engaged and active citizen, in terms of government interaction and access to public services (Lips 2013). Digital inclusion, within the Trust Map, entails more than just increasing digital access and use–it is about communities, power and the potential for societal change.

Project details

July 14 – January 2018
ESRC (ES/M003566/1 and ES/M003566/2)
Funded value:
  • Karen Salt, University of Nottingham (Principal Investigator)
  • Emma Grace Flynn, Durham University (Co-Investigator)

NORTH Lab investigators

Jo Briggs

I joined the School of Design in early 2012 as researcher on (EPSRC) Digital Originals and took up the role of Anniversary Research Fellow in Interactive Media Design the following year. Before coming to Northumbria I lectured at various universities and art colleges in the UK and Ireland and completed a practice-led AHRC PhD on the 'post conflict' situation in Northern Ireland, as examined through some of the cultural and educational initiatives introduced there after the Good Friday Agreement, including those to promote digital moving image production. This work brought together and expanded a repertoire of acquired experience and training across art and design, creative computing and media broadcast, all of which continues to inform and be further enriched by my ongoing research and practice.

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John Vines

I’m a designer by background, and most of my current research is located in the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and participatory design.

My research focuses on the study of how people experience, appropriate and use digital technologies in their everyday lives. I often take a research through design approach, which for me involves designing new digital prototypes, artefacts and “things” with citizens, and studying the creation and use of these prototypes to generate knowledge that is both valuable to designers and advances our understanding of social phenomena. I am specifically interested in how technology is interwoven with issues such as independence and agency in later life, could support informal and relational care for people of all ages, and might help scaffold “friendly” and “caring” communities. I also have experience and ongoing interests in human experience and technology design as it relates to self-care, trust, security and empathic communication. Generally, I’m intrigued by the ways in which digital technologies might support new interactions and engagements between people in relation to these issues, rather than be used to replace human contact (as is often the case).

Along with the above, a large amount of my research examines the practical and ethical dimensions of conducting participatory design (and participatory research in general) with citizens, especially in sensitive contexts and with people with heightened vulnerabilities. Therefore I have an ongoing interest in understanding the methods and techniques used for involving people in design and research processes, and have been involved in a series of professional events and journal special issues unpicking the ethical encounters faced when conducting participatory and technology oriented research with participants.

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