The evidence presented earlier in this report confirms that the UK is becoming a smarter society. To date three factors have been highlighted as underpinning our progress: our consumers' willingness to embrace the digital revolution, our capacity for design and creativity, as well as our ability to link up, join or combine multiple agendas to create value.
But, as with any technical, economic and social shift on this scale, society will need to evolve to keep on benefiting. Progress in the last decade has been immense, but this research has identified five areas which we will need to focus on if we want to maximise the gains from the next wave of smart society developments.
1. A data friendly culture, reinforced by trust and responsibility
Data is the currency of the smart society. Flows of information are at the core of almost all of its benefits. The rise of data is creating countless possibilities, but these will not be realised without a culture of trust and confidence about how data is used.
2. Empowered and digitally literate citizens as enablers of the smart society
A key element of building trust is developing understanding and knowledge. It is important that consumers understand the benefits when they share data. That they know when they are taking risks. And they know how to avoid sharing data with organisations which they do not trust.
This ability of citizens to be in control of their own data was highlighted by a number of panellists as a vital enabler of greater trust in data and a way to drive the responsible use of data across our ecosystem. This may require us to think very differently about data ownership.
The smart society and digital technology in general has the potential to be an incredible force for inclusion. The internet is an incredible open source of knowledge and many digital markets have low barriers to access and require low levels of capital for start-up. Delivering empowered and digitally literate citizens will be crucial for realising this opportunity.
3. Empowered public institutions offering smart leadership
Smart is much more than a technology question. The case of smart cities outlined earlier shows the complex interactions between technology, citizens and democracy. There are increasing opportunities for governments to help invest in the platforms, relationships and networks to open up new opportunities from the smart society.
4. Enabling infrastructures
The rise of digital technologies is inevitably making increasing demands on our infrastructure. Increasing public and private investment will be required to meet these demands and to put in place an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.
It is important to consider both hard and softer enabling infrastructures. A number of panellists identified one area of data management as a key enabler.
5. Enabling open platforms and open markets
Connectivity, a theme that is central to a smart society, is not just about technology. It is also very much about people; in fact, it is ultimately all about people. Success in building a smart society will depend on our ability to bring people together. This agenda is not about citizens in isolation, nor businesses, governments or universities on their own. It is not even about the bilateral interactions alone. It is about engagement in smart networks. The collective efforts of all are needed to co-create open platforms, new products and services, and new markets that will ultimately serve the purposes and needs of society.
Smart is an evolving and an aspirational concept. As a society we need to continue evolving and aspiring towards a better, smarter future.
The UK is on the right track, although the future development of our smart society will only be secured if we can build a data friendly culture, deliver truly empowered digital citizens, develop the capacity of our public sector to support this work, invest in key elements of infrastructure, and collaborate to unlock new open platforms and open markets.
- Working on the Towards a Smarter Society report in partnership with Samsung UK, Charles Levy is a Senior Economist at The Work Foundation and David Wong a Researcher at the Big Innovation Centre. Follow the links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.
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