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#DataLiteracy is the vehicle to a technological utopia – so why aren’t we talking about it?

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It goes without saying that technology has become an entrenched feature of contemporary lifestyle. Modern technology now defines the way individuals conduct their daily routines and interact with one another. We instinctively call on devices to deal with our problems. Our queries are instinctively fulfilled by Google. Our social interactions are all conveniently organized. Our appetites are satisfied with the touch of a button. Technological is our instinctive solution to most problems, writes Joe Oakes.
What strikes me is that no one seems to know if they like it or not. I hear so many speculate the impending doom of an Orwellian dystopia following mass technological change – an opinion which they tweet off their smartphone whilst riding in an Uber. It’s almost as though we have some higher conscience that wants us to fight the technological revolution – but after a long day of work and a testing week, we’d rather scroll twitter and passively watch semi-funny videos than engage this philosophy.
Many are worried that in doing so, we are consigning ourselves to monotony. Commercialized networking platforms in particular demonstrate less concern for altruism or individual prosperity as much as they do with screen time. Various psychological tactics are successfully employed to achieve to cement our engagement.
This view of the world is interesting and worth consideration. But it seems desolate and narrow. It misses some of the great benefits that technology provides for us. For us middle-class millennials of the UK, technology offers the time to pursue your interests, running the errands that you just don’t have time to.

With regard to political discussion and debate, social media is the most influential technological development. Facebook and Twitter now serve as people’s number one news source, and with an increasing influence. The young are particularly reliant on these sources for information - 82% of 16-24s consider the internet as their go-to. The impact on political participation is debated but apparent. There is no denying the engaging capacities that social media offer.

Most scholars recognize that social media opens people up to opinions that they may not have otherwise seen – particularly psychologists who point to the necessity of technology in empowered societies. By opening up the scope of opinion, we reduce the risk of a one-dimensional thought process. One need only to look to China, where the CCP’s forceful management of social media is one of the biggest threats to any shred of democratic libertarian values.

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Any publishing must be approved by government officials, Western platforms are mostly banned, and the government are even coming after internet cafes. A free, open media is instrumental in preventing such a fate in the West.

Disagreement and diversity is therefore hugely valuable for maintaining liberal democracy. While many perceive social media as a vehicle for echo chambers and restricted opinion, there is a handful of evidence which suggests that social networking sites expose users to alternative viewpoints. Whether or not your timeline is decorated in such a way will depend on how you understand these issues and how you chose to approach it.

The power of social media to innovatively join people across divides is inspiring – and a trend which is in worryingly short supply. But it would be wrong to forget what it does to bring together those who already share interests. Groups and forums online successfully bring unite people whose passions overlap, allowing users to discuss and advance their hobbies. On a more personal level, individuals who feel marginalized or isolated in their particular community can experience the value of reaching out to others who are in the same boat. Social media have a wonderful ability to give a voice to those who feel voiceless.

I am a strong believer in the empowering capabilities of social media, but I am not blind to their problems. Given its status as a provider of information for the masses, their difficulties are associated with the method by which this information is delivered, and its quality. It is now much harder to identify what constitutes our timeline and what we can really trust.

In a time of print press, identifying sources and their angles was much easier. One could pick up a copy of any newspaper, and immediately understand where it was coming from, what was motivating it to publish what it was. Now, the line is blurred. The myriad of opinions and sources online are offered by individuals or organizations which we hardly know, whose thoughts are now much more far-reaching. Understanding the reasons behind people’s comments or tweets is much harder, and it becomes harder for us to contextualize their standpoint. Without this, evaluating the information they offer becomes nearly impossible.

Acknowledging how your sources got on to your timeline in the first place is also essential. As most social media platforms are commercialized, they prioritize relevance over significance. If these platforms can keep engagement on the up, then their worth as a platform increases, followed by their advertising revenue. They just ask that instead of paying, you offer up all available information about yourself. As a result, the first posts you see are the ones that reflect your data most intimately, and therefore pique your interest and keep you wanting more.

More often than not, the posts you see most of will tend to be from the people you already agree with. The result of this is an increasing focus on popularity rather than quality. Deciphering the legitimacy of a claim or an individual making one is particularly hard, given that its so easy to manufacture or sensationalize statements. Popularity as a key determinant of quality has given rise to the phenomenon of fake news and inflammatory reporting. We come to analyse the posts we read based on the number of retweets they receive, or the following of the ‘publisher’. Bullshit rides this wave right to the front pages.

When things move so quickly, we don’t have the time to work out what’s right and what’s wrong. We can’t always run a line of enquiry into the truth of every claim. This all seems so trivial. How do we know who to trust if not the most popular source? Where should I get my information from?

Many people have suggested regulation of these platforms, and the motion has made its way to the floor of the commons on a number of occasions. But for all the popularity of this movement, it seems to ignore the quality of social media which I’ve outlined. If we regulate the media itself, we risk losing so much of the benefits that we are desperately in need of – not to mention the threats to freedom of expression.

We must now turn our attention to digital literacy as a solution. Learning how to utilize, evaluate, publish, share and write are, like elementary literacy, not naturally developed. They need to be taught. The significance of encouraging people to learn this cannot be understated. If we can increase society’s understanding and manage their misuse of these platforms, the need for regulation as good as disappears, and we can focus on maximizing the empowering potential of these sites.

A report published by Demos suggests that young people are most in need of this education. The report identifies that they are by far the most confident users, but also the most easily misled. They do not fact check their information, they are unable to find the right information, and are unable to recognize bias. As the biggest users of social media, and the future of politics, it is essential that these individuals are geared up to manage its nuances. As the nature and the demands on these media change and develop for years to come, the young must not allow themselves to be misled, nor to inadvertently mislead others.

The government claims to be switched on to the problem. The most recent significant investment was in 2015, when they launched an £85 million programme in digital skills training. Their policy paper makes important reference to the inclusive capabilities of digital literacy which they intend to implement through the library system and the NHS.

But the Demos report suggests that a lack of teaching is one of the biggest reasons behind the data literacy problem in the UK. Around one third of students actually receive tuition, and 55% of teachers believe that their students are not sufficiently equipped to manage the dangers.

Technology has permeated into all elements of our lifestyle and our politics, and it will continue to do so. The banality of technological processes and social media as a form of political engagement means that its impacts have become easy to overlook. Many people, particularly the young, assume that navigation of these technologies is inherent and straightforward – but that is simply not the case. The impact of misuse is vast and detrimental.

We can take one of two paths. Individuals and governments can switch on to the impacts of increased data literacy, and we can accept all of the fruitful benefits that technology has to offer. Alternatively, we can complacently ignore these issues, and open the door to inflammatory news production and empty rhetorical debate. As threats to liberty and equality come in thick and fast, it is our prerogative as a society to lay the fundamental groundwork to be able to fight them off.

Digital economy

Digital euro: Commission welcomes the launch of the digital euro project by the ECB

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The Commission welcomes the decision taken by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) to launch the digital euro project and start its investigation phase. This phase will look at various design options, user requirements and at how financial intermediaries could provide services building on a digital euro. The digital euro, a digital form of central bank money, would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses in situations where physical cash cannot be used. It would support a well-integrated payments sector to respond to new payment needs in Europe.

Taking into account digitalisation, rapid changes in the payments landscape and the emergence of crypto-assets, the digital euro would be a complement to cash, which should remain widely available and useable. It would support a number of policy objectives set out in the Commission's wider digital finance and retail payments strategies including the digitalisation of the European economy, increase the international role of the euro and support the EU's open strategic autonomy. Based on the technical co-operation with the ECB initiated in January, the Commission will continue to work closely with the ECB and the EU institutions throughout the investigation phase in analysing and testing the various design options in view of policy objectives.

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Digital economy

New digital resource launched to support health, social care and industry innovation

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Achieving Innovation is a new resource developed by Life Sciences Hub Wales to inform and guide those working across industry, health and social care innovation. It summarises key research, provides critical insights and delivers fresh perspectives from cross-sector thought leaders.

This new digital resource reviews the wealth of knowledge available about innovation in health and social care to equip those who need it with the most relevant and important information. Life Sciences Hub Wales has worked closely with contributors spanning health, industry, academia and social care providing input.

Innovation is perceived by many stakeholders as essential for catalysing system-wide change and making a difference to patients and people. A recent survey commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales for Beaufort Research found that 97% of health and social care regarded innovation as being very important, alongside 91% of industry.

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However, barriers can make innovation more difficult, including a lack of common language, resources, and cross-sector engagement. Life Sciences Hub Wales has created the Achieving Innovation resource to help address these challenges, identifying evidence-based solutions and answers to help navigate the innovation ecosystem and futureproof our health and social care systems.

The resource is set to be regularly updated with new material, and launches with a:

Cari-Anne Quinn, CEO of Life Sciences Hub Wales, said: “This new resource can play a key role in helping stakeholders of all backgrounds navigate the health and social care ecosystems in Wales and beyond. Innovators hold the key to large-scale transformation of health, care and wellbeing in Wales and this resource will support them in achieving this.”

Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan, said: “Innovation plays a critical role in supporting our health and social care sectors in Wales to deliver new ideas and technologies in partnership with industry. I welcome Life Sciences Hub Wales new ‘Achieving Innovation’ resource as a key tool for innovators who are working to overcome real challenges and grasp exciting new opportunities. When we established and funded Life Science Hub Wales, innovation was at the heart of its ethos - this ethos has played a key role in our recovery and response to the impact of COVID-19.”

Dr. Chris Subbe, Acute, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Consultant at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Senior Clinical Lecturer at Bangor University, said: “I was delighted to contribute to the Achieving Innovation resource by exploring the importance of making innovation an everyday habit.

In this time of exceptional pressures on our ability to provide quality care we need to find ways to develop talent and ideas from wherever they come. This new resource should empower multidisciplinary innovators from industry and healthcare backgrounds with the information, context and language required.”

Darren Hughes, Director of Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome the new Achieving Innovation resource from Life Sciences Hub Wales, as we have seen the impact of innovation and service transformation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The resource supports a deeper understanding of innovation and complements our multi-agency report prepared by Swansea University, The NHS Wales COVID-19 Innovation and Transformation Study Report, which draws from a vast evidence-base of staff experiences from across NHS Wales, examining why and how they innovated and looking at practical recommendations to further this agenda.

“As we embark on recovery, it’s imperative that we capitalize on opportunity to improve service delivery, efficiency, patient outcomes, staff wellbeing, and encourage a culture of learning and sharing best practice across organisational boundaries.”

The resource comes at an exciting time for innovation in Wales, with the launch of the Intensive Learning Academies earlier in 2021. The first of their kind in the world, these world-leading academies are delivering innovation-focussed taught courses, research and bespoke consultancy services, with Life Sciences Hub Wales supporting relevant partners.

If you would like to explore the Achieving Innovation resource, click here

About Life Sciences Hub Wales

Life Sciences Hub Wales aims to make Wales the place of choice for health, care and wellbeing innovation. We help to advance innovation and create meaningful collaboration between industry, health, social care, government, and research organisations.

We want to help transform both the health and economic wellbeing of the nation:

  • Accelerating the development and adoption of innovative solutions that support the health and social care needs of Wales, and;
  • partnering with industry to advance economic improvement across the life sciences sector and drive business growth and jobs in Wales.

We do this by working closely with health and social care colleagues to understand the challenges and pressures an organization may face. Once identified, we then work with industry to help source and support the development of innovative solutions to respond to these challenges with agility.

Our team provides bespoke advice, signposting and support to accelerate all innovation journeys, whether supporting a clinician with a bright idea or a multinational life sciences organisation.

Life Sciences Hub Wales helps to catalyse system-wide change by convening and orchestrating a cross-sector innovation ecosystem. These connections enable us to create valuable networking and matchmaking opportunities.

To find out more, click here.

About the Achieving Innovation resource

The resource launches with:

  • Eight Insights for Achieving Innovation- article collating key insights and themes from across the resource.
  • Directory summarizing support and organisations available in Wales.
  • A narrative review of innovation evidence and literature.
  • A policy review of the Welsh government’s approach to innovation.
  • Blogs authored by leaders from across health, industry and social care focussing on innovation.
  • Podcasts where thought leaders discuss the challenges and opportunities of innovation.

Survey Reference:

A recent survey commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales for Beaufort Research found that 97% of health and social care regarded innovation as being very important, alongside 91% of industry.”

Beaufort Research were commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales to conduct an anonymous survey into cross-sector stakeholder perceptions around the organisation and the wider life sciences sector in early 2021. This was undertaken to help inform Life Sciences Hub Wales’ future strategic direction.

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Digital economy

Economic analysis of Digital Markets Act

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The European Commission has presented a proposal for The Digital Markets Act (DMA). Its goal is to create fair and competitive digital markets in the EU. It aims to achieve this by introducing new ex-ante regulations that will automatically apply to so-called "gatekeepers". The gatekeepers are to be large internet platforms that meet selected size criteria, writes Robert Chovanculiak, PhD.

In a new joint publication entitled Economic Analysis of Digital Markets Act, prepared by four think tanks: INESS (Slovakia), CETA (Czech Republic), IME (Bulgaria), and LFMI (Lithuania), we point out the shortcomings of the DMA and highlight the possible unintended consequences of this regulation. In addition, we also suggest a way to modify the proposed procedure for regulating internet companies.

Among the main shortcomings is the very definition of 'gatekeepers'. They do not really occupy a dominant position within the economy as a whole. Even within digital services, there is intense competition between platforms against each other, while at the same time their position in the market is constantly being challenged by new innovators.

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The only space where gatekeepers have the ability to influence the rules of the game is on their own platform. However, even though they have full control over setting the terms and conditions for users, they have no incentive to set them unfavourably. This is best seen when it comes to various practices that the DMA proposal restricts or outright prohibits.

In the study, we show that these business practices are time-tested and are legitimately used by many companies in the offline world. Moreover, there are a number of economic explanations in the literature as to why these business practices are not a manifestation of anti-competitive behaviour, but instead provide increased welfare for both the end and business users of the platform.

We therefore recommend that the DMA rethinks the centralization and automation of the entire process of identifying "gatekeepers" and individual prohibited business practices. From the perspective of the CEE region, it is important to maintain the dynamic element of competition. This can be achieved by replacing the static and ex ante approach in the DMA with a polycentric approach where national capacities are involved in decision making while maintaining an open regulatory dialogue in which internet companies themselves have the opportunity to participate.

Robert Chovanculiak, PhD is an analyst at INESS and lead author of the Economic Analysis of Digital Markets Act.

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