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Dot Everyone and the digital revolution

Gracie Lofthouse
Martha Lane Fox wants to solve social and ethical challenges with a technology 'do tank'

You probably saw her Dimbleby lecture. Martha Lane Fox unveiled Dot Everyone, a new institution tasked with making the UK “brilliant at the internet.” It’s also going to focus on promoting women in technology, as well as sorting out our infrastructure. Basically, it’ll tackle anything and everything to do with technology.

We caught up with the Baroness and Lastminute.com founder about designing a digital authority for the modern age.

How would Dot Everyone work, and who would be involved?

I don’t want to create another fusty building. I’m not sure I’m proposing a fixed organisation at all. It might be a way for groups of people to come together for short, intense periods of time to take on particular challenges.

You might pull in people from different places. From government, the commercial sector or schools as experts on a particular challenge. They might not even be experts, but lateral thinkers.

Somebody described it as a “do tank.” I don’t want to just produce reports. It’s got to be prototyping stuff. It’s got to be developing things and designing systems.

So it’s a challenge-focussed project. But how would you decide which ones to address?

I’m imagining a general vote. You could say, “right, which of these issues is the most important? Should we concentrate on reinventing the hospital? Should we concentrate on how to get more women more embedded in all stages of the technology sector? Or should we concentrate on universal digital skills? Vote. Help us. Decide.”

Does the UK lag behind digitally?

The UK tends to be the first stop for big American platforms because of the language. We’re Google’s biggest market outside the US. We’re Amazon’s and Facebook’s second biggest international market. It’s incredibly important to put attention into the start-up world, as the government’s been doing. But that’s only half the story.

The other way the UK needs to build global leadership is around the social aspects of the web. I don’t mean social media. I mean broader questions about the internet. You’ve got Tim Berner Lee’s organisation, but I don’t see lots of organisations stepping in to answer big questions. There’s an opportunity for the UK to grab the digital public world and show what’s possible.

Dot Everyone should be able to lead the public discourse on some of the biggest social and ethical challenges we face. Take the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. They’re always rolled out on the radio to talk about complex questions. They start the public narrative on embryology. I think we need that for technology.

Is this a question of infrastructure or education?

If you look at our infrastructure, we’ve got a mish-mash. We had good telecoms deregulation and broadband infrastructure up until about ten years ago. Now, we don’t rank very well in terms of actual speed. We need a long term, consistent plan.

But mainstream understanding is just as important. If I struggle, how can legislatures who don’t necessarily have any experience get their heads around the changing world of technology in order to legislate properly? How can FTSE100 CEOs appreciate the digital world if they haven’t been immersed in it?

I’m not saying technology’s going to save us. But I’ve met so many people who’ve been empowered by learning how to use the internet and getting jobs, saving money and connecting with family. There are still a lot of relatively young people who can’t access the world we take for granted. It’s unfair and it’s alarming.

Will there be much resistance?

There’s huge corporate resistance to the world of technology because we don’t really understand it. If you look at our research and development spending as a percentage of corporate investment, it’s much smaller than other countries. It’s understandable. If you don’t understand something it can seem scary.

Where’s the funding coming come?

It’s currently coming from MLF enterprise. I think it has to be a combination of different organisations. Maybe some public money too. I don’t think it needs a huge amount.

How much can an independent organisation influence policy?

As a Baroness, everyday I get lobbying packs from varying groups. Independent organisations form the backbone of a lot of how policy gets done. It’s good and bad, because organisations that have the loudest voice and the most contacts often get the most done. But you absolutely can be effective.

doteveryone.org.uk

 

I don't see lots of organisations stepping in to answer big questions. There's an opportunity for the UK to grab the digital public world and show what's possible

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