KIN, VSNU, and the Digital Society Research Agenda – Leading the way through cooperation in a Digital Society

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Digitalisation of Society


Digitalisation is affecting virtually any aspect of modern life. How we vote and build momentum for referenda, how we store and protect our personal information, how we measure our health and quality of life, and how we work and collaborate within and across public and private organisations. This movement towards the digital era has been going on for at least the past ten years, and will continue to disrupt our society for decades to come. As academics we must address these changes to further our understanding of how digitalisation affects individuals and society, and also to help navigate future developments to benefit society as a whole. Hence, the VSNU – the Dutch Collective of Collaborating Universities – developed the Digital Society Research Agenda. The agenda outlines several programmes that will guide academic research into the implications of the digitalisation of our society. The ambition of the VSNU is bold as the collective of universities states that “In ten years time, the Netherlands will have become a leader in the field of digitisation in society.”


Human-Centered Approach to Working and Organising in the Digital Age


Based on a collaborative effort to structure academic research into the digitisation of society, seven key programs of research have been identified (The full agenda can be found here):


  1. Citizenship & Democracy
  2. Responsible Data Science
  3. Health & Well-Being
  4. Learning & Education
  5. Work & Organizations
  6. Digital Cities & Communities
  7. Safety & Security


To take responsibility for understanding the ways that digitalisation affects how we work within and across organisations, professor Marleen Huysman acted as coordinating author for program 5: Work & Organisations, which addresses the question:


How to prepare companies and workers for a new economy?


Rather than focusing on pure economic value or efficiency measures that can be influenced with new technologies, the program addresses the need for a more social and human-centered approach to understanding the implications of new digital innovations in organizations. Since organizations are an important element of our society, high quality research is needed to address the changes that are to come and to make sure that we “develop human-centered solutions that prevent social inequalities and societal exclusion.”


Official video by VSNU on the Digital Society


“Data as the starting point and people as the center point”


The Work & Organisations programme of the Digital Society, draws attention to several important topics that affect how work is done in organisations, how actors collaborate both within and across organisations, and how organisations may affect public life. The programme refers for example to the impact of algorithms on deskilling and upskilling professionals’ levels of expertise, or on the influence of robots such as drones or care-robots on the ways in which people do their work. Structured in-depth research also draws attention to the sometimes unintended consequences of such technologies in the workplace, such as changing professional roles or labor relations. Also, the rise of new digital technologies changes the way in which organisations can innovate.


“While there is some agreement that the development of digital technologies calls for a radical different way of organising and managing innovation, in-depth interdisciplinary research is needed to understand how these new products and services successfully come about and how they affect or alter society.”


It is clear that the agenda set in this Work & Organisations programme raises a variety of relevant questions and avenues that are interesting for both organisations and academics. So even though the VSNU agenda may be developed for the coming five years, the research and the implications of those studies will be relevant for the next decades to come as new revolutionary and unexpected digital innovations will disrupt the ways people work within and across organisations.

By Nick Oostervink.