INCLUDE+ is a network exploring how social and digital environments can be built, shaped and sustained to enable all people to thrive. The five-year programme of activities (2022-2027) will build a knowledge community around in/equalities in digital society that will comprise industry, academia, the public and third sectors in response to the UKRI Equitable Digital Society theme. 

The uneven ways that civil liberties, work, labour and health have been impacted since the outbreak of Covid-19, as we have turned to digital technologies to sustain previous ways of life, has shown us the extent of inequalities across all societies as they are cut through with health, gender, ethnicity, age, class, opportunity, geolocation. It has also led many organisations and businesses across industry, the public and third sectors, to question values they previously supported. Capitalising on this moment of reflection and recognition of the need for structural change at a policy level, we explore the possibility of imagining and building a future that takes different core values and practices as central and works in very different ways.

INCLUDE+ will address the lived and structural inequalities of digital society. Responding to the urgent call of the ‘Beyond Digital’ Parliamentary report (2021), and the EPSRC ‘Equitable Digital Society’ theme, we ask how social and digital environments can and should be built, shaped and sustained in ways that enable all people to thrive. This involves fostering research covering the breadth of the digital economy and equality themes, such as algorithmic social justice, responsible and inclusive digital innovation, digital civics, and health.

As the roles of organisations and businesses across all three sectors changes, what is now taken up as core values and ethos will be crucial in defining the future.

Dr Helen Thornham

Wellbeing, precarity and civic culture speak directly to the uppermost concerns industry, the public and third sectors are prioritising as we emerge from the pandemic. We will:

  • Drive research asking how wellbeing, precarity, and civic culture feed and are generated by, wider structural inequalities (bureaucratic, algorithmic, data-driven, discursive, normative).
  • Ask how those socio-technical structures are negotiated, lived, felt and intervened into by the communities we work with.
  • Explore and build alternative structures drawing on examples from across the sectors and drawing in experts from within the Network+ into the community-led projects.

We respond by rebuilding and renewing those structures with a wider network of partners, experts and communities around the different values that emerge from our initial interrogations. The research we will commission on these important topics sits underneath wider network activities (annual conferences, workshops, fellowships, knowledge exchange activities, publications), building cross disciplinary and cross sector knowledge communities.

Our approach builds responses, innovations and practices from participatory research with and led by communities, marking our research as deeply meaningful and impactful, distinctive and innovative. Ultimately, we are working towards a shared vision of what an equitable digital society should and could look like, whilst simultaneously assessing the routes through which this vision might be achieved. In so doing, we offer a whole system approach, framed by the complexities and nuances that sit right at the heart of digital society.