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Datafied Society (research hub)

Research

Datafied Society is a research hub in Utrecht for investigating the impact of datafication on society. Datafication describes the structural translation of everyday activities and interactions into tabulated information that becomes available for analysis processes (Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier 2013). Increasingly, these data analyses inform decision making in public governance and management; they are used to allocate audiences and distribute of media content. The datafication of urban space, its residents and their public sphere is shaping a new dimension of public governance and management that exceeds the traditional scope of data collection and data analyses (Meijer 2016). Datafication profoundly transforms the citizens’ relationship to societal institutions such as public governance and management and media. These processes have profound implications for organisational processes within municipalities, for the daily lives of individual residents, and for the self-understanding of an urban community as a whole.

Data-driven practices raise issues concerning social solidarity, privacy, security, civic participation and sovereignty. The concept of the ‘platform society’ (Van Dijck and Poell, 2016) refers to the transformational effects that private and commercial parties such as Uber, Udacity, or AirBnB can have on transportation, education or housing. And indeed, although datafication and data practices hold enormous potential for government and management, civic participation and creative industries, they also constitute significant challenges concerning public goods, civil liberties, and commonly shared values. Just as, in other domains, reliable financial and political institutions have been decisive in allowing societies to benefit from the potential of expanding markets and new means of production, here too effective institutional innovations will be pivotal in determining the extent to which societies can realize the potential benefits of datafication while avoiding the potential threats they pose to open societies.

This research hub addresses societal challenges emerging from novel data practices in public governance and management, (public) media and public space and seizes opportunities for using data practices to foster citizenship, civic participation and creative production. 

Research efforts cover, but are not limited to, questions such as:

  • How do shared beliefs in the effects of big data frame the culture and policy space within which solutions can be developed?
  • What are opportunities and what are pitfalls of datafication?
  • What are the impacts of online platforms in social organization, media use and public debate?
  • How can models and algorithms in data analysis be held accountable?
  • To what extent can data literacy emancipate citizens?
  • How can novel data resources and practices further the open society and shape opportunities for inclusion, social mobility, self-fulfilment and political participation?

Cooperating with academic partners from different disciplines, and societal partners such as municipalities (e.g. City of Utrecht), state departments (e.g. Ministry for Economy) and partners from creative industries and and civil society, this hub brings together a wide range of relevant stakeholders and expertise. Building on an expanding network of the Utrecht Data School, the hub will facilitate both a platform for setting up interdisciplinary research projects and a platform for interdisciplinary cooperation between academics of different fields and practitioners or stakeholders from the related societal sectors. It functions as an impromptu think tank on emerging societal issues related to datafication and is focused on knowledge transfer and societal impact.

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