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The digital road ahead

A new digital policy network

The Global Digital Foundation is a think tank that offers policymakers a framework for dialogue with stakeholders and with their counterparts in other countries so that they can develop a shared understanding of the challenges of policy in a digital world. The Global Digital Foundation is also an international network of policy expertise providing a base for interdisciplinary research and a forum for three-way learning interaction between policymakers, stakeholders and scholars.

As digital innovation forces traditional sectors to adapt, so policymaking that hopes to respond must take on its stronger characteristics. These are speed, flexibility, and the use of networks to focus the knowledge and experience of many minds onto complex problems. Public policy must become multidisciplinary, more agile, more open, and more networked. The Global Digital Foundation aims to provide these strengths, using its own network to support an evidence-based and problem-solving response to the policy needs of a digitising society.

Transformation and disruption

Digital innovation is the basis for new types of economic and social organisation that have improved communication and collaboration, and simplified manufacturing and services. At its heart are established, yet still evolving, technologies: algorithms, smart devices, artificial intelligence, industrial robots, and drones.

When connected via cloud computing these technologies form the building blocks of collaborative and transactional systems that can meet a wide range of social, scientific, business, and cultural needs. Digital innovation supports innovation in so many areas that it will, by 2050, likely have reshaped the economic, social and cultural contours of the globe.

The journey will not be smooth. New technologies have a history of disrupting jobs and transforming nations. Weavers in 19th Century Silesia and Scotland were displaced by mechanised looms. In the 20th Century farm workers in the United States were displaced by machines powered by the internal combustion engine.

Digital innovation will see even greater disruption. In a world where cars and trucks can drive themselves on the open road, where machines can respond to spoken requests and win complex games against champion human players, it seems likely that advanced technology will affect millions of jobs.

Digital innovation also challenges the norms of a world that it is, to some degree, replacing. It is contesting the border between public and private data and it is accentuating challenges to free trade and to traditional political and cultural identities.

A prize worth the effort

But there is every reason to believe that the journey will be worth the trouble. Digital innovation means new occupations will emerge and new, as yet unknown, industries will replace some of those that disappear. Innovation can be reconciled with privacy and security. Healthy trade between nations can empower economies and cultures. Digital innovation can channel political and artistic expression. With the right approach countries can expect the digital future to be bright.

Towards a policy framework

A policy balancing act

In much of the developed and developing world policymakers (governments, legislators and public servants) are contending with growing anxiety about economic disruption, privacy, national sovereignty, and free expression. Often they are trying to balance digital innovation's potential to power economic growth with fear that it will permanently reduce employment, the potential benefits of providing more personal information with concern about threats to privacy, and the ability of political extremists to use networks with the need to preserve free expression. Without a framework that introduces wider knowledge and experience of policy into a structured dialogue with stakeholders (citizens, industry, innovators, trades unions, cultural leaders and NGOs) policymaking may become paralysed or unstable.


Building the framework

To minimise disruption in a globalised economy policymakers must work with stakeholders to foster digital innovation wherever it can be of benefit. Governments will need, themselves, to adopt digital innovation and its organisational ideas in the form of e-government and smart cities. In their role as policymakers they will need to rewrite regulations to cater for new forms of civic and economic interaction—between the state and foreign countries, the state and its citizens, consumers and providers of goods and services, and individual contractors and companies. They will have to respond to the dislocation of workers and professionals with policies that encourage skills and employment. Finally, governments will need to determine where the use of digital innovation for the protection of their citizens’ welfare and safety is, and is not, legitimate or beneficial.

It is an unprecedented opportunity. With the right policies governments can maximise the benefits while minimising its disruptive effects. To navigate this environment both policymakers and stakeholders will benefit from a common framework that supports evidence-based analysis and mutual engagement as the basis for policy development.

Interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder

Supporting policymakers

The Global Digital Foundation will support policymakers as follows:

  • Arrange interaction between policymakers and stakeholders in fora where invited scholars, representing a wide range of disciplines—science, technology, economics, social and cultural studies—will facilitate the exploration of digital policy options.

  • Support Open Innovation 2.0 initiatives that aim at agreement and collaboration between government, industry, academia and citizens to achieve key goals.

  • Publish reports based on interdisciplinary study of the opportunity for, and impact of, digital innovation.

  • Analyse existing and proposed public policies that concern digital innovation and its effect on society.

Assemble evidence, create understanding, aim for consensus

The impact of digital innovation presents an evolving and complex picture. The digital innovator's opportunity can also be the worker's threat to her job, the legislator's cause of economic instability, the fund manager's stream of long-term revenue and the politician's menace of foreign influence.

The Global Digital Foundation will encourage critical reflection on the certainties that present themselves in circumstances of rapid technological change by, for example, promoting awareness that each of two or more conflicting views about the impact of technology often embodies an important truth. Stakeholders may agree on a list of objectives but differ on how they should be prioritised. This is a basis for more far-reaching agreement. Building on evidence-based analysis, the Global Digital Foundation will bring stakeholders and policymakers together in discussions, facilitated by scholars, with the aim of reaching such agreement, thus creating the basis for a consensus on goals and paths for digital innovation.

This approach should yield an appreciation of both the longer-term economic, social and cultural forces at work in the digitised economy and of their complex mutual interaction, making it less likely that public policy will be captured by a single narrative.

This approach will aim at four important benefits:

  • A better climate for digital innovation in the public and private sectors.

  • Awareness that choosing overly-precautionary regulations over rules that target specific harms will limit the potential for digital innovation to do good.

  • Economic policies that anticipate and address the effects of digital disruption on traditional sectors.

  • Seizure of the opportunity to transform government and government-controlled sectors such as research, education, security, and public administration.

Our work

  • Workshops attended by stakeholders and policymakers, and facilitated by scholars that analyse digital innovation challenges, seek consensus about future policy direction and communicate policy recommendations to governments and the media.

  • Roundtable discussion with stakeholders and policymakers, facilitated by scholars, under the Chatham House Rule.

  • Briefings that use an interdisciplinary approach to analyse the digital innovation and policy landscape within sectors and countries—both within and between regions—and make policy recommendations.

  • News that highlights the most recent developments and trends in technology and policies that are likely to affect these trends.

  • The publication of interviews with stakeholders about their organisation or sector and their ambitions and concerns for its digital future.

Our structure

The Global Digital Foundation's structure, research and events are multidisciplinary, reflecting insights from economics, information technology (including artificial intelligence, robotics and data science), management studies, law, social science and cultural studies.


The secretariat is in Brussels, Canberra, and Washington D.C.

Academic Advisory Council

In order to ensure that its research programme and output reflect the most recent developments and thinking in all of its areas of discipline an Academic Advisory Council will be appointed.

Public Administration Advisory Council

To ensure that its research programme and programme of interaction remain relevant to the priorities of policymakers a Public Administration Advisory Council comprising former elected and permanent holders of public office will be appointed.

Innovation Advisory Council

In order to ensure that its research focus and programme of activity remain relevant to the practical application of digital innovation the Global Digital Foundation will be advised by an Innovation Advisory Council.