New platforms for public imagination

Kathy Peach at NESTA: “….The practice of thinking about the future is currently dominated by a small group of academics, consultants, government foresight teams, and large organisations. The ability to influence the future has been cornered by powerful special interests and new tech monopolies who shape our views of what is possible. While the entrepreneurs, scientists and tech developers building the future are not much more diverse. Overall, the future is dominated by privileged white men.

Democratising futures means creating new capacity among many more diverse people to explore and articulate their alternative and desirable visions of the future. It must create hope – enabling people to co-diagnose the issues and opportunities, build common ground and collectively imagine preferred futures. Investment, policy and collective civic action should then be aligned to help deliver these common visions. This is anticipatory democracy, not the extractive surveying of needs and wants against a narrow prescribed set of options that characterises many ‘public engagement’ exercises. Too often these are little more than PR activities conducted relatively late in the decision-making process.

Participatory futures

The participation of citizens in futures exercises is not new. From Hawaii in the 1970s to Newcastle more recently, cities, regions and small nations have at times explored these methods as a way of deepening civic engagement. But this approach has so far failed to achieve mainstream adoption.

The zeitgeist, however, may be changing. Political paralysis has led to growing calls for citizens assemblies on climate change and resolving the Brexit deadlock – demonstrating increasing enthusiasm for involving citizens in complex deliberations. The appointment of the world’s first Commissioner for Future Generations in Wales and its People’s Platform, as well as the establishment of the UK’s all-party parliamentary group on future generations are also signals of democracies grappling to find ways of bringing long-term thinking and people back into political decision-making.

And while interest in mini-publics such as citizens’ assemblies has grown, there has been a much broader expansion of participatory methods for thinking about the future….

Anecdotal evidence from participatory futures exercises suggests they can lead to significantchange for communities. But rigorous or longitudinal evaluations of these approaches are relatively few, so the evidence base is sketchy. The reasons for this are not clear. Perhaps it is the eclecticism of the field, the lack of clarity on how to evaluate these methods, or the belief of its supporters that the impact is self-evidentiary.

As part of our new research agenda into participatory futures, we want to address this challenge. We hope to identify how newer and more traditional futures methods can practically be combined to greatest effect. We want to understand the impact on the individuals and groups involved, as well as on the wider community. We want to know whether platforms for public imagination can help nurture more of the things we need: more inclusive economies and innovation, healthier community relationships, greater personal agency for individuals, and more effective civic society.

We know many local authorities, public and civil society institutions are recognising the need to reimagine their roles and their services, and recast their relationships with citizens for our changing world….(More)”.

The future of work? Work of the future!

European Commission: “While historical evidence suggests that previous waves of automation have been overwhelmingly positive for the economy and society, AI is in a different league, with the potential to be much more disruptive. It builds upon other digital technologies but also brings about and amplifies major socioeconomic changes of its own.

What do recent technological developments in AI and robotisation mean for the economy, businesses and jobs? Should we be worried or excited? Which jobs will be destroyed and which new ones created? What should education systems, businesses, governments and social partners do to manage the coming transition successfully?
These are some of the questions considered by Michel Servoz, Senior Adviser on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the Future of Labour, in this in-depth study requested by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker….(More)”.

Digital inequalities in the age of artificial intelligence and big data

Paper by Christoph Lutz: “In this literature review, I summarize key concepts and findings from the rich academic literature on digital inequalities. I propose that digital inequalities research should look more into labor‐ and big data‐related questions such as inequalities in online labor markets and the negative effects of algorithmic decision‐making for vulnerable population groups.

The article engages with the sociological literature on digital inequalities and explains the general approach to digital inequalities, based on the distinction of first‐, second‐, and third‐level digital divides. First, inequalities in access to digital technologies are discussed. This discussion is extended to emerging technologies, including the Internet‐of‐things and artificial intelligence‐powered systems such as smart speakers. Second, inequalities in digital skills and technology use are reviewed and connected to the discourse on new forms of work such as the sharing economy or gig economy. Third and finally, the discourse on the outcomes, in the form of benefits or harms, from digital technology use is taken up.

Here, I propose to integrate the digital inequalities literature more strongly with critical algorithm studies and recent discussions about datafication, digital footprints, and information privacy….(More)”.

The Wrong Kind of AI? Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Labor Demand

NBER Paper by Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo: “Artificial Intelligence is set to influence every aspect of our lives, not least the way production is organized. AI, as a technology platform, can automate tasks previously performed by labor or create new tasks and activities in which humans can be productively employed. Recent technological change has been biased towards automation, with insufficient focus on creating new tasks where labor can be productively employed. The consequences of this choice have been stagnating labor demand, declining labor share in national income, rising inequality and lower productivity growth. The current tendency is to develop AI in the direction of further automation, but this might mean missing out on the promise of the “right” kind of AI with better economic and social outcomes….(More)”.

Platform Surveillance

Editorial by David Murakami Wood and Torin Monahan of Special Issue of Surveillance and Society: “This editorial introduces this special responsive issue on “platform surveillance.” We develop the term platform surveillance to account for the manifold and often insidious ways that digital platforms fundamentally transform social practices and relations, recasting them as surveillant exchanges whose coordination must be technologically mediated and therefore made exploitable as data. In the process, digital platforms become dominant social structures in their own right, subordinating other institutions, conjuring or sedimenting social divisions and inequalities, and setting the terms upon which individuals, organizations, and governments interact.

Emergent forms of platform capitalism portend new governmentalities, as they gradually draw existing institutions into alignment or harmonization with the logics of platform surveillance while also engendering subjectivities (e.g., the gig-economy worker) that support those logics. Because surveillance is essential to the operations of digital platforms, because it structures the forms of governance and capital that emerge, the field of surveillance studies is uniquely positioned to investigate and theorize these phenomena….(More)”.

Imagination unleashed: Democratising the knowledge economy

Report by Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Isaac Stanley, Madeleine Gabriel, and Geoff Mulgan: “If economic eras are defined by their most advanced form of production, then we live in a knowledge economy – one where knowledge plays a decisive role in the organisation of production, distribution and consumption.

The era of Fordist mass production that preceded it transformed almost every part of the economy. But the knowledge economy hasn’t spread in the same way. Only some people and places are reaping the benefits.

This is a big problem: it contributes to inequality, stagnation and political alienation. And traditional policy solutions are not sufficient to tackle it. We can’t expect benefits simply to trickle down to the rest of the population, and redistribution alone will not solve the inequalities we are facing.

What’s the alternative? Nesta has been working with Roberto Mangabeira Unger to convene discussions with politicians, researchers, and activists from member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, to explore policy options for an inclusive knowledge economy. This report presents the results of that collaboration.

We argue that an inclusive knowledge economy requires action to democratise the economy – widening access to capital and productive opportunity, transforming models of ownership, addressing new concentrations of power, and democratising the direction of innovation.

It demands that we establish a social inheritance by reforming education and social security.

And it requires us to create a high-energy democracy, promoting experimental government, and independent and empowered civil society.


This is a broad ranging agenda. In practice, it focuses on:

  • SMEs and their capacity and skills – greatly accelerating the adoption of new methods and technologies at every level of the economy, including new clean technologies that reduce carbon emissions
  • Transforming industrial policy to cope with the new concentrations of power and to prevent monopoly and predatory behaviours
  • Transforming and disaggregating property rights so that more people can have a stake in productive resources
  • Reforming education to prepare the next generation for the labour market of the future not the past – cultivating the mindsets, skills and cultures relevant to future jobs
  • Reforming social policy to respond to new patterns of work and need – creating more flexible systems that can cope with rapid change in jobs and skills, with a greater emphasis on reskilling
  • Reforming government and democracy to achieve new levels of participation, agility, experimentation and effectiveness…(More)”

New Data Tools Connect American Workers to Education and Job Opportunities

Department of Commerce: “These are the real stories of the people that recently participated in the Census Bureau initiative called The Opportunity Project—a novel, collaborative effort between government agencies, technology companies, and nongovernment organizations to translate government open data into user-friendly tools that solve real world problems for families, communities, and businesses nationwide.  On March 1, they came together to share their projects at The Opportunity Project’s Demo Day. Projects like theirs help veterans, aspiring technologists, and all Americans connect with the career and educational opportunities, like Bryan and Olivia did.

One barrier for many American students and workers is the lack of clear data to help match them with educational opportunities and jobs.  Students want information on the best courses that lead to high paying and high demand jobs. Job seekers want to find the jobs that best match their skills, or where to find new skills that open up career development opportunities.  Despite the increasing availability of big data and the long-standing, highly regarded federal statistical system, there remain significant data gaps about basic labor market questions.

  • What is the payoff of a bachelor’s degree versus an apprenticeship, 2-year degree, industry certification, or other credential?
  • What are the jobs of the future?  Which jobs of today also will be the jobs of the future? What skills and experience do companies value most?

The Opportunity Project brings government, communities, and companies like IBM, the veteran-led, and Nepris together to create tools to answer simple questions related to education, employment, health, transportation, housing, and many other matters that are critical to helping Americans advance in their lives and careers….(More)”.

The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation

Book by Carl Benedikt Frey: “From the Industrial Revolution to the age of artificial intelligence, The Technology Trap takes a sweeping look at the history of technological progress and how it has radically shifted the distribution of economic and political power among society’s members. As Carl Benedikt Frey shows, the Industrial Revolution created unprecedented wealth and prosperity over the long run, but the immediate consequences of mechanization were devastating for large swaths of the population. Middle-income jobs withered, wages stagnated, the labor share of income fell, profits surged, and economic inequality skyrocketed. These trends, Frey documents, broadly mirror those in our current age of automation, which began with the Computer Revolution.

Just as the Industrial Revolution eventually brought about extraordinary benefits for society, artificial intelligence systems have the potential to do the same. But Frey argues that this depends on how the short term is managed. In the nineteenth century, workers violently expressed their concerns over machines taking their jobs. The Luddite uprisings joined a long wave of machinery riots that swept across Europe and China. Today’s despairing middle class has not resorted to physical force, but their frustration has led to rising populism and the increasing fragmentation of society. As middle-class jobs continue to come under pressure, there’s no assurance that positive attitudes to technology will persist.
The Industrial Revolution was a defining moment in history, but few grasped its enormous consequences at the time. The Technology Trap demonstrates that in the midst of another technological revolution, the lessons of the past can help us to more effectively face the present….(More)”.

Saying yes to State Longitudinal Data Systems: building and maintaining cross agency relationships

Report by the National Skills Coalition: “In order to provide actionable information to stakeholders, state longitudinal data systems use administrative data that state agencies collect through administering programs. Thus, state longitudinal data systems must maintain strong working relationships with the state agencies collecting necessary administrative data. These state agencies can include K-12 and higher education agencies, workforce agencies, and those administering social service programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

When state longitudinal data systems have strong relationships with agencies, agencies willingly and promptly share their data with the system, engage with data governance when needed, approve research requests in a timely manner, and continue to cooperate with the system over the long term. If state agencies do not participate with their state’s longitudinal data system, the work of the system is put into jeopardy. States may find that research and performance reporting can be stalled or stopped outright.

Kentucky and Virginia have been able to build and maintain support for their systems among state agencies. Their example demonstrates how states can effectively utilize their state longitudinal data systems….(More)”.

How Data Sharing Can Improve Frontline Worker Development

Digital Promise: “Frontline workers, or the workers who interact directly with customers and provide services in industries like retail, healthcare, food service, and hospitality, help make up the backbone of today’s workforce.

However, frontline workforce talent development presents numerous challenges. Frontline workers may not be receiving the education and training they need to advance in their careers and sustain gainful employment. They also likely do not have access to data regarding their own skills and learning, and do not know what skills employers seek in quality workers.

Today, Digital Promise, a nonprofit authorized by Congress to support comprehensive research and development of programs to advance innovation in education, launched “Tapping Data for Frontline Talent Development,” a new, interactive report that shares how the seamless and secure sharing of data is key to creating more effective learning and career pathways for frontline service workers.

The research revealed that the current learning ecosystem that serves frontline workers—which includes stakeholders like education and training providers, funders, and employers—is complex, siloed, and removes agency from the worker.

Although many data types are collected, in today’s system much of the data is duplicative and rarely used to inform impact and long-term outcomes. The processes and systems in the ecosystem do not support the flow of data between stakeholders or frontline workers.

And yet, data sharing systems and collaborations are beginning to emerge as providers, funders, and employers recognize the power in data-driven decision-making and the benefits to data sharing. Not only can data sharing help to improve programs and services, it can create more personalized interventions for education providers supporting frontline workers, and it can also improve talent pipelines for employers.

In addition to providing three case studies with valuable examples of employersa community, and a state focused on driving change based on data, this new report identifies key recommendations that have the potential to move the current system toward a more data-driven, collaborative, worker-centered learning ecosystem, including:

  1. Creating awareness and demand among stakeholders
  2. Ensuring equity and inclusion for workers/learners through access and awareness
  3. Creating data sharing resources
  4. Advocating for data standards
  5. Advocating for policies and incentives
  6. Spurring the creation of technology systems that enable data sharing/interoperability

We invite you to read our new report today for more information, and sign up for updates on this important work….(More)”