Levelling Up – ‘Developing Digital Citizenship’ by Ellie Lockley

​​​​​​​On 2 February the Government published its levelling up policy paper Levelling Up the United Kingdom which sets out how the Government are proposing to spread opportunity more equally across the UK.

In response to the Levelling Up paper, SHU launched an internal competition for teams of researchers to submit their proposals for innovative, multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral projects that address at least one of the 12 Levelling Up Missions outlined in the paper.​​​​​​​

Some excellent submissions from across Hallam were received, but there were four that really embodied the elements SHU were looking for. The four chosen projects will be awarded up to £10K of funding for 12 months to pump prime an applied research collaboration.

We are pleased to announce that one of the four chosen projects was from our CCRI Research Fellow Ellie Lockley.

Here she tells us about her team’s proposal – ‘Developing Digital Citizenship’.


Why is your team’s project important and what need does it meet?

Our project speaks to Mission 6 of the government’s levelling up agenda: ‘By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK’.

This project builds users’ digital citizenship skills. Life online is complex and the move towards hybrid working, accelerated by the recent pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis have increased the urgency of these skills. Being aware of how the internet works and the users’ basic rights is a condition for digital citizenship.

This action-research project walks participants through the ins and outs of the features of the internet, and the ways it works – why it matters for them, why certain online behaviours are problematic, and how to make sure we protect ourselves and others when on the internet.  Understanding individual digital governance (privacy, social media, and digital civility) and citizen digital rights (data protection, data ownership) are ‘invisible requirements’ that are not trained for or discussed at the user level; and yet, the more aware we are as internet citizens and as professionals the more we will make a fairer, smarter, and balanced digitally enhanced society.

What makes the project innovative?

This is an action-research project. It provides training to participants whilst learning from them. Our work will delve into discussions on universal access to the internet and digital literacy; as well as with privacy, data protection and security; transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination in relation to data, content, and algorithms.

Our approach focuses on inclusivity and diversity rather than a ‘one size fits all’ program of skills. Also, the training program is designed to evolve through its several iterations, to learn from its participants’ needs and from the feedback provided by them. We will collaboratively develop education materials and define recommendations towards raising awareness about citizen digital rights.​​​​​​​

“We work and live our lives online while not being aware of what the internet looks like, or what happens to the data and the digital footprints we generate while being online.”

How will it act as a catalyst for ‘Levelling Up’?

Our work firstly contributes to the professional development and training of the participants across the Doncaster region but also beyond. As much as participants have a job or want to get one, they will be able to make use of the basic skills provided in our project as a starting point. They will learn about other similar and more developed offers within the EU-funded project Advancing Digital, which will ultimately tackle Levelling Up Mission 6, ‘completing high-quality skills training’.

Secondly, this is a project that grows a network of communities, organisations, and local authorities, to form a coordinated system of partnerships. This will facilitate the project to develop a relevant and coordinated recommendation program for councils and organizations, but also for companies, to ensure the formation and digital citizenship and skills of their members. This increases the impact of this project and opens the possibility of further developments: funding bids, scalability, and the opening of the project to other regions.

This initial work is designed to act as an exploratory case to develop a larger research programme. The development of a local, city-region level framework focusing on the engagement and needs of users, is replicable, could be upscaled to national, and even international levels, and could feasibly form an evidence base for Digital Policy interventions.

How will colleagues across Hallam collaborate on delivering it?

​​​​We will align and bring together several staff members and multiple areas of existing initiatives that connect Doncaster and Hallam within the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA). One part of the project is the ongoing collaboration around the development and implementation of the long-term Cultural Strategy in Doncaster, work being undertaken by Dr Rodriguez-Amat and Sara Trentham-Black with the Doncaster Council (DC). Another part of the project includes the EU Social Fund supported initiative Advancing Digital, by steering group member Dr Chris Roast. The project is also linked to the Digital Strategy project led by Peter Grover for the development of Doncaster’s digital profile, and with the Education Initiatives and Department of Education Doncaster family hubs, led by Prof. Mike Coldwell.  These last two have been invited to join the project steering group. Furthermore, this project connects with other community-oriented initiatives led by other academics in Hallam, including the work led by Dr Eve Stirling (Department of Arts and Design), as well as involving early career researchers such as the PhD and Graduate Teaching Assistant student Lydia Worrall.

At this early stage, we have already started to collaborate with the Advancing Digital team at Hallam to develop an early draft for the module “How to be a digital citizen: Developing responsible and effective online awareness” so that it can be offered as part of the Advancing Digital list of courses beyond Doncaster and all across the South Yorkshire region. 

What are you particularly looking forward to working on?

There are at least three aspects that we, as a team, are looking forward to working on. First, working to empower the community groups in the regions and to learn from them as much as we can to make our knowledge and expertise accessible beyond the university and higher education frame. Second, to create impact: to be able to collaborate with the local councils and organisations and to establish a list of recommendations of basic training for life online. Third, this is an opportunity for us too, to grow and consolidate a working team and a network of collaborations that will facilitate the application for more funding and establish and develop a shared research program on Digital Citizenship.

What challenges do you think you’ll face?

Engaging people is always a key challenge – especially during difficult socio-economic times -but we are hopeful that our network of community organisations will work together to ensure inclusive and diverse participation.