The Digital Society

Digital information technology is becoming ever more deeply and rapidly entrenched in our society. It won’t be long before everyone is permanently connected to each other via the Internet. It has already become clear that extensive digitisation is set to radically change practically all aspects of society, not only in the Netherlands but throughout the world.

The Netherlands is a compact, highly developed, well-organised country with excellent physical and digital infrastructures. The academic research conducted at our universities is of high quality across the board. Furthermore, our researchers are highly experienced in crossing the boundaries between disciplines and institutions.

This unique combination of characteristics creates an equally unique opportunity for the Netherlands: to lead the world in the creation of effective connections between digital technology, people and their societies.

In the years ahead, Dutch universities will work together towards this common goal. They will further combine the existing wealth of research in this field and focus it on a clear, common profile. As a corollary of the National Science Agenda, Dutch universities want to invest in cutting-edge research together with other knowledge institutions, the business sector and the government.


Digital Society research programme presented during the VSNU-Impactfestival

During the VSNU-Impactfestival on 23 November, the Dutch universities presented the Digital Society research programme. The first copy of the programme was handed to Minister Van Engelshoven by three of its authors, Andrea Evers, Frank van Harmelen and Harold Bekkering, as well as by VSNU President Pieter Duisenberg.
The aim of the research programme is to give the Netherlands a leading international position in the field of people-oriented information technology and to find solutions to global challenges. The programme focuses on seven themes: Citizenship & Democracy, Responsible Data Science, Health & Well-Being, Learning & Education, Work & Organisations, Digital Cities & Communities and Safety & Security. Explicit attention is given to the role of data science in meeting these challenges. 
The research programme is unique in the Netherlands. The fourteen universities are joining forces and together will free up and apply additional research capacity in order to further develop the programme. The research programme builds on the first proposition on the Digital Society.
We extend our sincere thanks to all academics who have contributed to the programme, especially Andrea Evers, Marleen Huysman, Franciska de Jong, Liesbet van Zoonen, Harold Bekkering, Frank van Harmelen, Inald Lagendijk and Maarten de Rijke.



7 programme lines Digital Society

During the Opening of the Academic Year in 2016, the Dutch universities launched ‘The Digital Society’, a joint project by the fourteen Dutch research universities. Currently, researchers are working on furthering this proposition. They are developing several programme lines: Data Science, Health & Wellbeing, Learning & Education, Digital Cities & Communities, Citizenship & Democracy, Safety & Security and Work & Organisations.

Data science
How to make full and responsible use of big data

Using data in reliable and responsible ways will be an integral part of any Digital Society research. Promoting responsible data science should limit the potential for misuse of personal data and the risk of undermining public trust. Techniques, methods and tools are needed to safeguard fair, accurate, confidential and transparent (FACT) use of data that is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), and they should be applied universally.

Health & Wellbeing
How to let technology generate longer, healthier lives

Digital technology can help promote healthier lifestyles, create healthier environments, optimize detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease and well-being of patients, and advance the quality and efficiency of care, both at home and in institutions. Digital technology should be designed and delivered according to the needs of end users, aimed towards limiting inequalities in access to care. It should help manage the costs of care for populations of all ages.

Learning & Education
How to enable people to participate meaningfully in all stages of life

Continuing technological change will both enable and require new types of learning and communication, not just during childhood but throughout people’s lives. More than ever, people of all ages should be enabled to continuously update their skills to engage with the environment and the rest of the world. Formal and informal learning processes should be personalized and made more effective.

Work & Organisations
How to prepare companies and workers for a new economy

Digital technology disrupts markets for products, services and jobs. In manufacturing, intensive use of data and 3D printing could transform value and production chains and bring us closer to a more circular economy. Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence can revolutionise major industries (including logistics, retail and white-collar professions). That could also require new ways to balance education, work, free time and retirement, and new strategies nets to prevent social inequalities and societal exclusion.

Citizenship & Democracy
How to reinvent trust, dialogue and decision-making

The information revolution has served to inform citizens but has opened wide avenues for misinformation as well, fuelling mistrust and polarisation. With the legitimacy of national and international systems of government being questioned, we can reinvigorate institutions that are vital for democratic compromise, economic prosperity and the rule of law. Digital connectivity can be used to reduce social exclusion and to advance social cohesion and create productive mixtures of national, cultural, and religious identities.

Digital Cities & Communities
How to build smart, enjoyable cities and hinterlands

Digital technology can help to create infrastructure with which to manage urbanisation, population growth, mobility, effects of climate change and transition to greater sustainability. By ‘monitoring citizens’ behaviour, smart cities could optimize urban planning and transport, and utility and community services such as waste collection and law enforcement. Smart cities should provide their own citizens safety and liveability, and interact optimally with surrounding rural communities.

Safety & Security
How to protect data, people and freedoms

Digital technology provides opportunities and challenges for human and data safety. War, peacekeeping and law enforcement will increasingly involve all sorts of data connections; government surveillance should balance reducing threats with preserving privacy and other civil liberties. Public and private organizations storing personal data require better protection against data intrusions. Vital institutions’ data require more robust shielding from saboteurs. Reliable, secure, high-capacity, energy-efficient data transfer and storage technologies are urgently needed.