Digital Technologies, Data and Innovation

Theme lead: Prof Dorothea Kleine

“Digital Technologies, Data and Innovation” (DDI) brings together 20 staff members and PhD students from 12 departments at the University of Sheffield, including the Information School, Engineering, Geography, Urban Studies and Planning, Grantham Centre, Health, Education, East Asian Studies and Management.

This research theme aims to help leverage digital technologies, data and innovation for change towards social and environmental justice in a prosperous world. Collaboratively, we will do this by carrying out excellent research and by supporting our people, staff and students, to develop as responsible leaders in this transformative field. You can read some of our blogs or listen to a podcast here.

Current Projects

ESRC Digital Development Strategic Network

Changing behavior through technology: therapeutic culture and the digital revolution

Researchers: China Mills, Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield), Elise Klein (University of Melbourne)

This British Academy funded project, led by China Mills, analyses the social life (production, use, appropriation and resistance) of psy-technologies for behaviour change within international development, with a focus on specific technologies in Australia, India and South Africa (including the Cashless Debit Card, the use of algorithmic diagnostics for mental health, and the use of apps to promote ‘healthy’ behavior).

Our research examines the way development ‘problems’ get framed as amenable to technological ‘solutions’. It seeks to explore:

a) the cultural processes involved in the development and use of digital technologies for behavioural change;

b) the kinds of stakeholders involved and consulted in the development of different technologies, and methods of consultation used;

c) the circulation and uses of data and digital technologies (including uses that exceed original design);

d) the effects that data and digitalisation have for users, particularly for the lives of those who count within the data (i.e. people targeted in the intervention).

Our findings so far points to an underexplored relationship of reinforcement between quantification and digitization – how they fold into each other to make visible behavioural and psychological ‘problems’ and to construct them as amenable to technological intervention (Mills and Hilberg, forthcoming). These technologies are often presented as entirely new and ahistorical, while our project emphasizes their immersion in social and cultural contexts with longstanding histories of the quantification of mental wellbeing.

Fieldwork included time spent at the WHO mhGAP Forum and in South Africa, doing focus groups with young people who use wellbeing apps.

Want to know more?

As part of this research, we have organized two workshops on therapeutic cultures and technologies, and have an upcoming conference on Global Mental Health and Therapeutic Assemblages. Our research team will also be presenting our findings and ongoing research at various events, including: a paper on "The Psycho-Social Lives of Diagnostic Algorithms" at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology (July 15-21, 2018) in Toronto, Canada. We have a conference in India on Psy-Technologies planned for March, with our partners at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai. So stay tuned for further information!

Digital latecomer economies and the digital trade agenda

Researchers: Dr. Chris Foster

International trade agreements have long been seen as an important aspect of international political economy. They define the rules of the game for international trade and influence the trajectories of national development. Such agreements have often been seen as problematic for low- and middle- income countries. Previous analysis of WTO agreements and TRIPS, for example, suggest they are driven by the political power of the US or the EU, and in turn the lobbying agendas of powerful private firms.

While trade in traditional goods and services is already subject to enforceable rules through multiple trade agreements, areas relevant to the digital economy are weakly regulated. This gap in global rules has provided policy space for countries behind the digital curve (digital latecomers) to implement (often contentious) digital policy to support digital skills and sectors.

Examples of such digital policy include digital market access rules, data localization, and technology transfers in a number of countries including China, Brazil, Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. Digital policy represents a threat to leading nations and digital firms, and so we have seen the emergence of a digital trade agenda, particularly present in the rules of recent regional trade agreements such as the TPP.

Our study looks to explore the actors and political economy of the digital trade agenda with respect to digital latecomers. So far we have undertaken pilot interviews with digital firms, firm associations, lobbyists and politicians in two key centres of policy making – Brussels and Washington DC. This work looks to explore the key political economies of policy making and their potential impact on digital latecomers.

For more information see:
‘The TPP and the digital trade agenda: Digital industrial policy and Silicon Valley’s influence on new trade agreements’, LSE Working Paper 175
‘Digital latecomer economies and national internet policy: The case of China’, Conference paper at Internet Policy & Politics Conference 2017

HyperConnecting Children & Young People

Researchers: Michalis Kontopodis, Senior Lecturer, School of Education

Communication is nowadays taking place through interactive, mobile and online platforms that enable the speedy distributed production and circulation of multimedia designs across different institutional, geographical and community spaces. In this frame, children and young people are hyperconnected in two ways:

• The boundaries between life online and life offline are increasingly blurred while the human body cannot be perceived independently of its connections to multiple devices, interfaces and networks

• Children can increasingly share information and experiences across the globe

Departing from the position that

• knowledge, cognition as well as affect are distributed, situated and embodied

• certain interfaces and web-designs privilege particular forms of communication and knowledge while they constrain others

HyperConnecting Children & Young People brings together a variety of projects that explore how children and youth create profiles, (snap-) chat and engage in social networking, (quad-)blogging, video-blogging and discussion forums as well as engage in programming, 3D printing and experimentation with hardware production. The project is inspired by research led by Prof. Jackie Marsh (Makerspaces in the early years: and explores the most recent developments regarding children and media in a global perspective, including case studies from a variety of European countries as well as India, Russia and Brazil.

Current members:

PhD students: