Technology and Society within the 2020 ESRC Festival of Social Science.

The 2020 ESRC Festival of Social Science, designed to allow social scientists across many academic institutions engage with practitioners, policymakers and professionals, about their own fascinating research, took place between the 7-15 November 2020. The week consisted of free, virtual events covering a multitude of areas with social science and presented its audiences first-hand with stimulating studies and the significant influence Surrey research has on our social, economic and political lives.

A collection of these events dovetail with the University’s new Technology and Society theme, which is a cutting-edge blend of Surrey research on the societal consequences of new and emerging technologies, critically interrogating the potentials, possibilities, ethics and consequences of technologies in human life.

Communicating effectively in families about young people’s digital lives – 12th November 2020.

By Dr Emily Setty.

Paul Hodkinson and I were joined by expert frontline providers Digital Awareness UK, Outspoken Sex Ed and Habyts to discuss parenting in the digital age and how to communicate effectively in families about young people’s digital lives. We hosted a webinar that was attended by young people, parents, educators and third-sector practitioners and researchers. 

I shared some of the findings from my research on young people’s digital sexual cultures, and the frontline providers discussed some of the evidence and best practice when it comes to talking about these types of issues in families. As well as talking about sex and relationships in the digital era, we also explored topics such as screen-time, gaming, bullying, self-image, and much more.

The ensuing discussion really highlighted the challenges of speaking openly and honestly in families about young people’s digital lives, and how the bridge the sometimes real, sometimes pre-conceived, generational gaps between parents and their children. We spoke about how families and the home are important to young people’s wellbeing and safety in a digital era, but also how they are only part of the tapestry of influences over and important spaces for young people. We focused on the need to really hear and listen to young people’s multifaceted and diverse perspectives on the issues and create a climate in which they feel validated and cared for. We also spoke about ensuring that we don’t generalise about young people or just go down the route of monitoring and (attempting to) control what they do – digital media isn’t going anywhere and in the contemporary context, adults may have as much to learn from young people as young people do from adults. 

We did not downplay the difficulties of making this a reality in families though, and we ended with the need for further research on how to do this (at which point we informed attendees about the research that we’re planning in this space!). We had some great feedback about the event from attendees, and the event provided an opportunity for us to establish and strengthen our connections with public stakeholders.

The recording of the event can be accessed here.

And I encourage anyone to get in touch with me if they wish to connect over these topics further.

Hack Hospitality: Digital solutions for post-COVID-19 recovery – 11th November 2020.

By Dr Yoo Ri Kim.

Hack Hospitality is a series of events proudly hosted by the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey, focusing on key research themes from digital technology and innovation in the visitor economy.

This year, at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, Hack Hospitality: Digital solutions for post-COVID-19 recovery focussed on post-COVID-19 of the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors, drawing on a number of research that examined different digital solutions from the importance of social distancing, data and social influence in building trust to contact-free digital service innovation in hotels and restaurants. Interesting ideas and research questions emerged from the interactive discussions with the delegates, ranging from inclusive and immersive visitor experiences to the importance of digital collaboration and networks to help destinations, sectors and businesses survive and build resilience. We believe that this is just a starting point in the journey to post-COVID-19 recovery and the questions raised are timely research agendas that need further exploration via impact driven industry-academic collaboration.

You can find the recording of the research presentations during the event here.

AI for Democracy – 10th November 2020.

By Dr Marton Ribary and Andrea Priorelli.

The webinar begins with a speech by Dr Alex Leveringhaus (Surrey Politics) on the role of AI technologies in influencing democratic processes; in particular, elections. This is followed by Prof Amelia Hadfield (Surrey Politics) who talks about how our policy-making processes have become more and more data-driven, and how this raises important questions on where to draw the line on AI affecting political decision-making. Then, Dr Adam Wyner (Swansea Computer Science) underlines a common misconception in picturing AI as solely consisting in Bottom-Up machine-learning mechanisms. Instead, the actual picture is one where Top-Down approaches to knowledge engineering are as relevant as ever for dealing with complex datasets. Finally, Mr Miklos Orban (OPL/Explico) explains how there is very little understanding in society as to the purposes, capabilities and implications of AI. In fact, there seems to be a tendency to polarize the discussion in two extremes, none of which captures correctly the promises as well as the concerns involved with AI.

The webinar recording can be found here.

Becoming a parent in a pandemic – 11th November 2020.

By Dr Ranjana Das and Dr Paul Hodkinson.

Becoming a Parent….in a Pandemic – organised by Ranjana Das and Paul Hodkinson as an ESRC Festival of Social Science, drew upon their joint research ( and showcased 8 external speakers from leading practitioner, policy and public avenues. Speakers came from the National Childbirth Trust, the Institute of Health Visiting, Dorset MIND, The Fatherhood Institute, PND Hour, the Lancashire NHS Trust and the ROSHNI2 project, the Universities of Surrey, Bournemouth and East Anglia, and included new parents of 2020 as speakers. The event had approximately 500 sign-ups and close to 300 attendees on the day, generating a significant amount of live audience engagement, and social media feedback, engagement and commentary on the #FOSSParents2020 hashtag. The event has been fully recorded and is available online and also hosted on the website. 

You can access the event recording here.