Ten projects have been awarded over £270k to explore social justice in the digital economy with examples looking at addressing knife crime to using technology to improve food security.  

These projects are part of the first funding call launched by the £1.2m UKRI project Not-Equal, funded by EPSRC through the Digital Economy Theme (EP/R044929/1). Not Equal is led by Newcastle University and includes Co-Investigators from Sussex, Royal Holloway and Swansea Universities

The fast pace of digital innovation can raise social justice issues that range from fears around digital exclusion to concerns around how algorithmic bias can generate inequalities in public service provision. We are excited to fund these ten projects, which will look at ways to empower citizens and create innovative responses that help make our digital society work for everyone.” – Clara Crivellaro, lead investigator, Newcastle University

The funded projects address the three core critical challenges the project has identified: digital security, algorithmic social justice and fairer futures for businesses and workforce.

The seven pilot projects

The seven pilot projects, summarised below, will last between six and eight months, with funding between £39.8k and £30.2 (all amounts at 80% FEC).

Civic InnovatioN in CommunITY

Knife crime prosecutions are at their highest level in over a decade. University College London will work with Citizens UK to support knife crime prevention by looking at areas of distrust between young people and the police. The team will modify and co-design a Fear of Crime App (FoCA) using data from over 200 participants in East London talking about their knife crime experiences. 

Creating and Understanding CyberGuardians in Communities

Older users are often targeted by online attackers. Northumbria University will work with the University of the Third Age (U3A) to support older digital users to become cybersecurity guardians (or ‘CyberGuardians’) for their local community and to train other older users in this practice.

Just Public Algorithms

Algorithms are increasingly being used in the delivery of public services. This project, led by the University of East Anglia working with Involve, aims to provide the most comprehensive picture yet of citizen responses to the ways in which algorithms are being adopted in and around UK public services.

It will map the different ways in which citizens are engaging with them and identify forms of public engagement that are not taken into account when decisions on policy are being made, such as public protests or community-led initiatives.

Who cares? Platform Work and Low-Income home service work in the digital economy

In the UK, women make up over half of gig workers but their experiences have been overlooked in public debates that tend to focus on male-dominated platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo. This project, led by the University of Strathclyde working with the New Economics Foundation, aims to identify challenges and opportunities for migrant and BAME women and other vulnerable groups using platforms in the gig economy.

Small Smart Farms

Larger farms are more likely to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy, whereas smaller farms are left behind and suffer competitive disadvantages. Smart Small Farms is an interdisciplinary research project led by James Hutton Institute which will work with small farms in Scotland to create pathways to accessing the benefits of the digital economy through the development of small-scale farming technologies.

Co-designing a sustainable food justice system with blockchain futures

City, University of London will create a series of workshops with grassroots urban agricultural communities in London to co-design sustainable food justice futures through blockchain.

This project aims to understand how algorithms play into the production and distribution of food, exploring the possibilities for more sustainable and just ways to achieve food sovereignty and security.  

Switch-Gig

In the UK, 2.8 million people work in the gig economy. This project, led by York University working with Lancaster University, aims to explore the opportunities for the industry’s technological innovations to be used to support workers, switching the current gig-economy focus to one of equality and power for workers. This will lay the groundwork for technologies capable of transformative change in the experience of broader gig-working industries.

The three micro projects

The micro projects will take around three months, with funding between £5k and £4.6k (all amounts at 80% FEC).

The three micro projects that were funded were:

  • Royal Holloway – Different explanations-determining the requirements for explainability for different stakeholders in Social Policy
  • Royal Holloway – Between digital platforms and the deep sea-social justice implications of digital platforms on marginality in coastal south India
  • Newcastle University – Opening Doors: Art and inequality in the platform economy

These projects were funded through Not-Equal’s Open Commissioning process launched in London and Newcastle in January 2019. A second call will be launched later in the year.

Not-Equal will be running activities around social justice in the digital economy throughout the year including a summer school for PhD students in Swansea.