Digital Futures Commission launches consultation on free play in a digital world

Play seems to capture the essence of childhood. It’s fun, experimental, creative, but it can also be serious and transgressive.  – Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE

Last month saw the launch of 5Rights Foundation’s Digital Futures Commission, an applied research project putting children’s interests at the centre of the design of the digital world.  

The Digital Futures Commission, led by Prof Sonia Livingstone of the LSE and hosted by 5Rights Foundation is a three-year project, but in a world where children have been pushed online during the pandemic couldn’t be more timely in its aims to unlock digital innovation in the interests of children and young people. Over the course of the next three years, the Commission will facilitate an exciting research collaboration between innovators, policy makers, regulators, academics and civil society, offering unrivalled insight into today’s world of play. The Commission will focus on three areas: play in a digital world, beneficial uses of education data, and guidance for innovators. Each of these work streams will be informed by the voices of children and underpinned by a research programme with outputs geared toward real world change for children. 

The launch started with a discussion about it’s newly published report Panorma of play, and the event also marked the start of a consultation on free play in a digital world, inviting children and young people, parents and carers, and professionals who work with children to share their views on the opportunities to play in a digital world. 

‘Children use the open-ended structure of play to imagine themselves beyond the constrains of space and time. But imagination and open-endedness are limited by the resources children have available to them. This means, there are inequalities in children’s play. We have all seen that covid-19 has exacerbates these inequalities’. – Professor Ann Phoenix, UCL, Digital Futures Commission launch event.

Children and young people are both the audience for the Commission’s work, as well as its collaborators, so it was important that they be central to the launch itself. The event was an opportunity to hear from some of the young people that have been involved in the research undertaken so far, but it was also a chance for them to ask questions of some of the Commissioners.  The Commissioners taking part in the discussion alongside Sonia Livingstone and 5Rights’ Beeban Kidron and Kruakae Pothong were Michael Preston (Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, Sesame Workshop), Anne Rafferty (The LEGO Group), and Angsar Koene (EY Global)  

The discussion highlighted a plethora of issues; from the connection between technology and physical play, from questions around addiction and compulsion towards digital play, to the challenges arising from the blurring between real and game money. The event also began a discussion into the diversity of representation in digital play, and the challenges that technology faces in addressing this. Unsurprisingly, an hour-long discussion only proved enough to scratch the surface, but it did a lot to help set the scene for the work ahead.  

The next step of this work is the consultation itself, which we encourage you to share amongst your own networks. Earlier this year we published our first research report the Panorama of Play, but now we want to seek the views of others. The consultation wants to help re-imagine play in the digital world– to make it better for children of all ages and diverse contexts. More concretely, it seeks to answer the questions of why play is important for children, what opportunities children have for digital play, and how play could be made better in the digital world. Those interested in the consultation can download it here.  

For a full list of our Commissioners, click here.  

To read more about our Research Agenda, click here.  

For more information on the Digital Futures Commission, click here.