Introducing the Digital Futures Commission

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is thrilled to be part of the Digital Futures Commission, an exciting new initiative that launches this week. The Commission’s goals amplify our own efforts here at the Cooney Center, and we are proud to be part of an international effort to put children’s needs at the center of our increasingly digital world.

Why a Digital Futures Commission?

Like most transformative innovations, from television to the internet, new digital spaces and tools tend to be developed with adults in mind. This phenomenon extends across everything we use today, including video platforms, social media, and smartphones. But we know that children are early and enthusiastic adopters of technology, and develop their own ways of engaging with media and each other. In fact, four years ago, Professor Sonia Livingstone estimated that one in three internet users is under 18 years old—a number that may be conservative today. Yet children’s voices are rarely included in the development of new innovations, research, or practice, and they are seldom considered in the design process or policy debates.

How can we better safeguard children and protect them from potential risks and harms, but also ensure that they have access to the tools and knowledge they need to thrive and are equipped to accomplish what they want? Here at the Cooney Center, we know that producers want to do what’s best for children—how can we make sure that they have the support and guidance they need? We already know a great deal about how children learn and grow, but there are significant gaps in how we bridge this knowledge across disparate sectors. The answers should be generated cooperatively, starting with the establishment of common understandings about children and shared visions for the future we want them to have.

What the Commission will do

The Digital Futures Commission aims to accomplish the above via a research collaboration of “innovators, policy makers, regulators, academics and civil society, to unlock digital innovation in the interests of children and young people.” The Commission is led by 5Rights Foundation founder Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE and child online expert Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE of the London School of Economics, who will oversee a team of researchers and staff. It is advised by commissioners dedicated to ensuring that children and young people’s interests are prioritized in the development and innovation of digital products, services, and research.

Over a three-year period, the Commission will develop research and guidance in three areas: play in a digital world, beneficial uses of education data, and guidance for innovators. The work will be informed by research and the active inclusion of children’s voices, and the outputs will be designed to generate real-world change for children.

 A brief summary of each area follows:

  • Play in a digital world: Work in this area seeks to understand “what good looks like” for children’s play in a digital world. The Commission will examine the concept of free play, what makes free play integral and valuable to childhood, barriers and enablers, and how it might be translated to and enhanced in the digital world. The Commission’s first report, A Panorama of Play, reviews the history of ideas about free play and proposes the qualities of play that matter in a digital world.
  • Beneficial uses of education data: Work in this area seeks to leverage the massive amount of data collected about children, learning analytics, and AI innovations in order to benefit children’s education. The Commission will review existing policy and practice and conduct new research in order to develop a framework for the beneficial use of children’s educational data with recommendations for child-rights-respecting data governance mechanisms.
  • Guidance for innovators: Work in this area seeks to shape guidance for designers and developers so they can prioritize the interests of children and young people. The Commission will map existing and emerging frameworks that incorporate ethics, rights, and values in order to develop practical child rights-respecting and child-centered methods for digital innovators.
Panorama of Play

A Panorama of Play is a new report from the Digital Futures Commission

I am proud to be among the commissioners, alongside representatives from the LEGO Group, BBC Research and Development North Lab, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, EY, Technological University Dublin, the Alan Turing Institute, the Behavioural Insights Team, University of Leeds, London School of Economics and Political Science, Erase All Kittens, Leeds Beckett University, and the Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre. Currently, the Commission’s work is centered on children in Europe, but because our children are growing up in a world that is globally connected, we are honored to represent the United States. We are looking forward to helping to shape the work that will take place over the next few years, and are eager to share what we learn.

This Friday, November 20, please join the Digital Futures Commission for a free webinar to mark World Children’s Day and the release of a new report, A Panorama of Play. Sonia Livingstone will lead a conversation with Ann Phoenix, Kate Cowan, and Chris Bateman exploring the future of free play in the digital world.