Digital Futures Commission

Innovating in the interests of children and young people

The Digital Futures Commission represents a new and exciting research collaboration of unique organisations that invites innovators, policy makers, regulators, academics and civil society, to unlock digital innovation in the interests of children and young people.

Over the next three years, the Digital Futures Commission will focus on:

  • Play and Participation - The Commission will examine the concept of free play and consider how it might be provided and nurtured in the digital world.
  • Guidance for Innovators - The Commission will develop practical guidance for child-centred design of digital services with a view to producing practical guidance for industry.
  • Beneficial uses of children and young people’s health and education data - The Commission will review existing regulation, policy, practice and frameworks and seek to provide a practical framework for the beneficial use of children and young people’s health and education data.

Children and young people are too often overlooked in the development of the digital world, and over-associated with the dangers of being online. The Digital Futures Commission will seek to redress this balance by offering practical steps to ensure that the best interests of children are reflected in the design of the digital world from the outset. Led by child online expert Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE, LSE, and 5Rights Foundation founder Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, the Commission is guided by a unique set of Commissioners dedicated to ensuring that children and young people’s interests are prioritised in the development and innovation of digital products, services and research.

Commissioners include:

  • BBC Research & Development North Lab
  • Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation
  • EY
  • Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  • Technological University Dublin
  • The Alan Turing Institute
  • The Behavioural Insights Team
  • The LEGO Group
  • University of Leeds

Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE, LSE:

“We have learned a lot about online harms over recent years, but what does good look like? To empower children growing up today, we must not only identify problems but also work towards solutions. The Digital Futures Commission is a wonderful opportunity to conduct new research, think creatively with the influential organizations participating in the Commission, and engage with children and young people. We aim to find practical ways to realize children’s rights and best interests in a digital world, and to ensure that technological innovators and policy makers always remember that one in three internet users is a child.”

Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, 5Rights Foundation:

“Children are underserved when it comes to innovation. The Commission’s ambition is to ensure that all in the value chain, from innovators, regulators, business consider children as they create our new world. The digital world impacts on the life chances of children across every aspect of their lives, the Commission will play a part in making sure that that impact is positive. I am delighted to be working with Professor Livingstone and to have such an extraordinary group of organisations guiding her work. It will be an exciting three years”

Anna Rafferty, Vice President of Digital Consumer Engagement, The Lego Group:

“To build a digital environment that delivers in the best interests of all children, it is key that we deepen our understanding of what good innovation for children looks like, leveraging the best of technology to deliver inspiring experiences that will enhance their wellbeing. The Commission represents a unique opportunity to do just this and, by doing so, to support the development of an enabling blueprint for innovation that will help ensure our digital future is designed with children, for children.”

Roger Taylor, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation:

"The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation exists to help create the conditions in which ethical innovation can thrive. We are excited to be a part of the Digital Futures Commission which brings together a dynamic group of actors committed to defining what ethical innovation looks like for children and young adults."

Adrian Woolard, BBC Research & Development:

“The Commission has identified a number of key priorities to make a significant positive impact on the values of the UK’s children and young adults over the next few years. By focusing on innovation, play and participation and the wider digital society, we are positive we can create impact for all children that will enhance their physical and digital wellbeing in the critical years ahead. I am proud to represent an organisation like the BBC on the commission and look forward to collaborating with an excellent mix of commercial, academic and public organisations all committed to these collective goals. ”

Dr Michael Preston, Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop:

“We are proud to participate in the Digital Futures Commission. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center was founded by the visionary creator of Sesame Street to ensure that all children are equipped with the literacies they need to succeed in the 21st century. As technology becomes ever more integral to our lives, it is even more critical to advance research, policies, and investment in child-centered approaches to innovation and design, opportunities for children to learn and play, and advocate for children’s rights in the digital world.”

Ansgar Koene, Global AI Ethics and Regulatory Leader, EY:

“In the last couple of years, the concepts of ‘ethics’, ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘responsibility’ have become increasingly ‘hot topics’ in discussions around emerging digital technologies. A closer look at these debates however reveals narratives that are almost exclusively told with an adult lens. With its unique mix of partners, the Digital Futures Commission provides an opportunity to shift the focus and explore the narrative from the perspective of children. What does a responsible, trustworthy and ethical digital environment look like that embraces the rights and desires of children as a core of its design philosophy, and not as an afterthought bolted on to placate the fears of adults who grew up in a different world?”

Professor Brian O’Neill, Director and Dean of the Graduate Research School, Technological University Dublin:

“Technological University Dublin is delighted to be associated with the Digital Futures Commission. We view the digital space as a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life of children, family and society. We look forward to working with the extraordinary talent which the 5Rights Foundation has assembled in helping to realise this vision and harnessing the potential of digital innovation to support children as active digital citizens”.

More information about the Digital Futures Commission

Why a Digital Futures Commission?

There are over one billion children and young people online1. Each day another 170,000 go online for the first time2. Despite this, children and young people often remain an afterthought in policy, legislation, research and innovation. The Children’s Digital Futures Commission focuses exclusively on under 18’s, placing children and young people at the forefront of policy development, research and innovation in the digital world.

Led by Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE and Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE, the Commission unites world leading experts and industry partners with specialist knowledge to normalise the consideration of children and young people at the very beginning of policy, research and product design. Over a three-year period, the Commission will develop prototype regulation, research and guidance for innovators across three areas of focus:

Play and Participation: Focusing on the exciting opportunities for children and young people in a digital world, the Commission responds to public narratives surrounding children and technology which are typically negative, to explore how play might be enriched by digital technologies. The Commission will examine the concept of free play and consider how it might be provided and nurtured in the digital world.

Guidance for Innovators: A number of forward-thinking companies are seeking to develop ethical guidance on innovation that prioritises the interests of children and young people. The Commission will develop practical guidance for child-centered design of digital services with a view to producing practical guidance, recognised by policy makers and regulators, for industry actors.

Beneficial uses of children and young people’s health and education data: In a digital world children and young people are ‘datafied’ from birth, not least in relation to healthcare and education systems3. Health and education are foundational to childhood, yet the proliferation of digital technologies and data collection in these arenas prompts pressing questions about the (un)ethical uses of data and the restrictions that potentially undermine beneficial uses of the same data. The Commission will review existing regulation, policy, practice and frameworks and seek to provide a practical framework for the beneficial use of children and young people’s health and education data.

1. One in Three: Internet Governance and Children’s Rights, S. Livingstone, et al, Unicef, January 2016
2. Kids Digital Media Report, PWC for SuperAwesome, May 2019
3. Lupton, D., Williamson, B., 2017. The datafied child: The dataveillance of children and implications for their rights. New Media and Society 19, 780–794. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816686328