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First international symposium on digital inequality kicks off at UC today

Suzanne Lazaroo

28 March 2022: The University of Canberra will host the First International Symposium on Digital Inequality and Social Change (ISDISC) today, with international researchers and changemakers coming together to explore how to build a better world in the face of an ever-widening digital gap between the privileged and the marginalised.

The symposium aims to be a fulcrum for researchers, policymakers and industry practitioners in the area, with a strong focus on the points where they intersect. It will be run in hybrid mode, to allow for both in-person and online participation.

Symposium Chair Dr Ahmed Imran, from the School of Information Technology and Systems at the University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, said that the symposium’s strong focus on research-industry collaboration reflected the real-world impacts of digital inequalities.

“Positive technological transformation must be centred on the good of people and communities – and we need to ramp up work on bridging inequities that have arisen because of technological advances,” said Dr Imran, an Assistant Professor in Information Systems.

“Technological breakthroughs have enabled productivity, efficiency, and profit – but there has also been considerable damage to society wrought in the name of digital disruption and development, particularly in developing countries and marginalised societies. The effects of digital inequality are apparent even in affluent, developed nations, in the divides between different demographics – and this is predicted to grow into the future.

“We must draw a line, so that societal values and aspirations shape technology itself, rather than the other way around – we can develop technological innovations and interventions that are more focused and aware of bridging inequality and promoting human values.”

To that end, Dr Imran leads the newly-established Research Cluster of Digital Inequality and Social Change (RC-disc) at the University, formed with the vision of building a critical mass of interdisciplinary experts on digital inequality and social change research.

“RC-disc is built on the research strength and interest of a multi-disciplinary research group, focusing on digital divides and inequality, ICT for development [ICT4D], the antecedents of digital and social transformation, the socio-cultural impact of IT, ethics, privacy, wellbeing and security, and IT for marginalised and Indigenous societies,” he said.

“We will build on local, national and international networks and expect to contribute to the critical knowledge gap in the area and have significant, direct and far-reaching societal benefits through several interventions.”

Dr Imran added that it is important to depart from silo-based research at this critical juncture of the 21st century, when it’s common for ICTs to cross over disciplines.

“This symposium is a platform to initiate dialogue, share ideas and build collaborative networks with the international research community, relevant industries and policymakers,” he said.

“With growing complexity and the inclusion of new actors in digital transformation, there is a strong need for greater collaboration, dialogue and the exchange of ideas.”

The symposium program will include four keynote addresses.

Professor Tim Unwin of the UK’s University of London will speak on marginalisation and empowerment due to digital inequality.

Professor Rhonda Wilson – a Wiradjuri woman and mental health nursing scientist from the University of Newcastle – will explore the issue of digital health inclusion, and how to promote it among First Nations, refugee populations and women in menopause, in particular.

Drawing on his experiences as a journal editor and reviewer, Professor Robert Davison from Hong Kong’s City University will explore disparate issues surrounding digital inclusion and identify new research questions for scholars to pursue.

Shirley Gregor, Professor Emerita at the Australian National University, will discuss the potential of design science research in the digital inequality context, consideration given to issues of working with marginalised groups and potential ethical challenges.

There will also be industry panels, research papers and case study presentations from across the globe, networking sessions and a symposium dinner.

The first day of the symposium will also see the signing of an MoU between the University of Canberra and the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, to establish a collaborative research partnership between the Chair and RC-disc.

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is a group of researchers and practitioners dedicated to the initiative, with Professor Unwin, its founding Chairholder. The Chair’s primary focus has been on excellence in multi-disciplinary research – in particular, on developing the expertise of postgraduates at Masters and PhD levels – as well as using its research to influence policy.

To contribute to RC-disc’s work to address digital inequality and support positive social transformation, you can make a donation at this fundraising page.