Minutes: NGI Forward Advisory Board meeting (22/07/20)

NGI Forward's advisory board held its inaugural meeting in late July, discussing the project's priorities and ambitions. To promote transparency, we publish written summaries of our meetings.

NGI Forward’s advisory board held its inaugural meeting on 22 July to discuss the project’s current priorities and future ambitions. The membership of our advisory board represents a broad community of internet experts and practitioners. Going forward, it will meet twice a year to provide the project with support, constructive criticism and guidance. To promote transparency, we publish summaries of our meetings. You can learn more about our board here.

Present: Pablo Aragón, Harry Armstrong, Mara Balestrini, Ger Baron, Katja Bego, Martin Bohle, Markus Droemann, Inger Paus, Katarzyna Śledziewska, Louis Stupple-Harris, Sander van der Waal, Marco Zappalorto

Not present: Ian Forrester (excused), Simon Morrison (excused), Marleen Stikker (excused)

Summary: On 22 July, NGI Forward’s advisory board held a two-hour video conference for its inaugural meeting. The agenda was designed to provide board members with an overview of the project, its place within the NGI ecosystem, its goals and current priorities. In particular, we discussed progress made and future ambitions across a series of activities that broadly fall under NGI Forward’s ecosystem-building objective, especially the delivery of an NGI vision paper and policy network. We also collected feedback on the role of the advisory board itself in supporting these activities and agreed a follow-up meeting to assess should be held within six months to assess progress against the project activities discussed. Board members provided detailed and constructive comments on each, which are summarised in bulleted form below. 

NGI vision

In this first part of the meeting, the project provided an overview of the main messages of the upcoming vision paper NGI Forward will release soon, 

  • Members agreed that the NGI vision should work towards concrete actions and alternatives,  rather than framing the issues in a reactive way. It’s necessary to clarify that the NGI is about reclaiming the internet in a European way, without furthering the dynamics moving us towards a splinternet, or  or supporting needlessly fatalistic narratives about reinventing the internet from scratch, or pulling the plug altogether. 
  • Members highlighted the risk that bad practices from big tech companies overshadow the possibilities of doing good through internet technology. The NGI vision should capture this by weaving more optimistic narratives and rewarding those who do the right thing.
  • Members argued that an NGI vision should also promote open standards, practical solutions, inclusion and bottom-up action, and should empower a wide net of stakeholders to play their role in bringing about this vision.
  • Members highlighted the challenge of balancing the NGI’s human-centred and value-based proposition with Europe’s otherwise more economically-driven Digital Single Market narrative. However, bridging that gap may also present a unique opportunity for the project and wider initiative to speak to policymakers who are caught in between both approaches. The story of this vision needs to be sufficiently inclusive to appeal to policymakers and other stakeholders across the political spectrum.
  • Members asked to be provided with an early draft of the vision before it’s published, and generally would like to be involved in the dissemination and future finetuning of the NGI vision.
  • Members expressed some language around data justice and bias was not as explicitly mentioned in the summary slides on the visions paper, and that, given the importance of these topics, the project should consider featuring these more prominently. 

Policy Network

  • NGI Forward presented a short paper on the objectives and design of a potential NGI Policy Network, which would serve as a coalition for change towards a more democratic, sustainable, trustworthy, resilient and inclusive internet by 2030. The proposed network would bring together organisations and individuals with shared ambitions through policy-relevant research and public affairs work. It would serve to avoid the duplication of efforts and the proliferation of competing, often similar, solutions to universal challenges from organisations that operate in different local contexts or represent different stakeholder and practitioner communities. It should aim to make the NGI more inclusive and provide a mechanism for bottom-up contributions to NGI-relevant research and policy work.
  • Members welcomed the idea of a community of communities that would serve to break down silos between different discourses and provide for knowledge-sharing at a practical level. 
  • Members highlighted that many actors in this space have a capacity problem and need to see a clear incentive for joining. 
  • Members similarly highlighted the risk of setting up a policy network that duplicates the work of similar, already existing groups. 
  • The network should have very clear objectives and identify areas of mutual interest that are underserved by other groups. At the same time, it should develop good links between these existing networks to widen its impact.
  • Members also spoke of the risk of setting up another project or network that cannot be sustainably continued after the end of NGI Forward’s funding period, often a problem for H2020-funded initiatives. The goal should be to create a structure that lasts after the end of the project, and could potentially be carried forward by its members. There should be a continuity or succession plan in place before the network is launched. 
  • Similarly, members suggested the network should be open to European project consortia to share their own project outputs and deliverables so as to ensure follow-up by others after the end of their respective grant periods.
  • Members argued that the project’s ambitions for enabling a bottom-up approach will require the network, and the project more generally, to target local governments and communities or institutions that otherwise have limited exposure to these topics and translate NGI ideas from EU jargon into more useful terminology, methods and tools.
  • Another potential selling point is to help public sector organisations who are actively looking for value-aligned alternatives and more ethical ways of organising the digitalisation of their services. 
  • Members highlighted in particular the need to target non-English-speaking audiences, and recommended that the project seek ways to translate outputs, and reflect Europe’s geographical diversity in, for example, the NGI Policy Summit programme.
  • Members agreed that there was a need for practical insights, and tangible, solutions-oriented policy ideas, but less desire for another discussion forum to discuss high-level principles for the future of the internet. One idea put forward was to brand the coalition a ‘Policy and Practice’ Network. 
  • Members suggested that the network could pursue more formal agreements between organisations, e.g. memoranda of understanding. Members said that the network would need visibility in places where policymakers go, such as the OECD and WEF. 
  • Members argued that we should consider setting clear responsibilities and deadlines for participants to ensure engagement and partners following through with commitments. On the other hand, we should be realistic about how much time and resource potential partners could invest in another network. 

Policy Summit 

  • The Members expressed their interest in the NGI Policy Summit, scheduled for September 28 and 29, and all agreed to attend at least some of the sessions. 
  • The Members also expressed the suitability of the summit to both highlight the conclusions of the visions paper, and launch the NGI Policy Network, with this in particular being a good moment to start some of the proposed working groups. 
  • Members recommended we also recruit engaged stakeholders to lead some of these working groups, rather than attempt to organise all of these within the project.

Announcing the NGI Forward Advisory Board

Our work requires the support and guidance of a broad community of experts and practitioners, and to help us achieve this we are excited to announce the establishment of our Advisory Board.

Our work requires the support and guidance of a broad community of experts and practitioners, and to help us achieve this we are excited to announce the establishment of our Advisory Board. Our Advisory Board members have been chosen to help us have the biggest impact we possibly can by connecting us with new networks, guiding our ideas and giving critical feedback on our plans.

Pablo Aragón, Research Scientist, Eurecat

Pablo is a research scientist at Eurecat and adjunct professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. His research in computational social science focuses on characterizing online participation in civic technologies, the online network structures of grassroots movements and political parties, and the techno-political dimension of networked democracy. He is also a board member of Decidim, the free open-source platform for participatory democracy. Follow Pablo on Twitter.

Mara Balestrini, Digital Transformation and HCI advisor

Mara is a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researcher and a digital transformation strategist. Mara’s work sits at the intersection of civic technology, data, AI and co-creation. She is former CEO of Ideas for Change innovation agency and was cabinet advisor to the Secretary of State for Digitalization and AI at the Government of Spain. Mara earned a PhD in Computer Science from the Intel Collaborative Research Institute on Sustainable Connected Cities (ICRI-Cities) at University College London (UCL). She also holds an MSc in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Her work has been awarded at ACM CHI, ACM CSCW, Ars Electronica, among others, and featured in international media such as the BBC, The Guardian, The Financial Times and El País. Follow Mara on Twitter.

Ger Baron, CTO, City of Amsterdam

Ger Baron is the Chief Technology Officer of the City of Amsterdam. His professional career started at Accenture, where he worked as an analyst in the consulting department. In 2007, he was hired by Amsterdam Innovation Motor (AIM) in the role of project manager, specifically to develop and enhance the role of ICT. Baron was responsible for starting up the Amsterdam ICT-cluster and he initiated several projects in public-private partnership. Among these were a number of projects related to the development of Amsterdam’s Smart City initiative. Currently, Mr Baron is responsible for innovation, R&D and innovation partnerships within the City of Amsterdam. In addition, he serves as president of the City Protocol Society. Follow Ger on Twitter.

Martin Bohle, Senior Researcher, Edgeryders

Martin’s research focuses on the relationships between science and society, as perceived from a geoscience baseline. He likes to explore concepts that describe the ‘human-biogeosphere intersections’, refer to societal practices (citizen science, governance arrangements, or narratives) or encroach on complex notions such as Anthropocene, noosphere or engineering. From 1991 to 2019, he was affiliated with the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) of the European Commission, where he worked in operational, executive and senior advisory functions. Before these experiences, he studied the dynamics of coastal seas and lakes. Follow Martin on Twitter.

Ian Forrester, Senior Firestarter, BBC R&D

Ian is a well known and likeable character on the digital scene in the UK. He has now made Manchester his home, where he works for the BBC’s R&D North lab. He focuses on open innovation and new disruptive opportunities via open engagement and collaborations with startups, early adopters and hackers. His current research is in the area of Future Narrative and Storytelling, with a technology he calls Perceptive Media. A new kind method of broadcasting, which pairs the best of broadcast with the best of the internet to create an experience like sitting around a campfire telling stories. His background is in interaction design, which he combines with development using XML and semantic web technologies. He tends to live a few years in the future, and has an excellent eye for spotting the opportunities of open technologies and new business models. Follow Ian on Twitter.

Simon Morrison, Deputy CEO, Nesta

Simon is Deputy CEO of Nesta, where he leads the organisation’s operational teams and oversees the content-creation teams. He also works on strategy and day-to-day issues. He has been a Nesta exec for almost seven years and holds a lot of corporate memory as well as practical experience, which he tries to use to mentor individuals and units throughout the business. Prior to Nesta, he held senior positions at the Institute of Fundraising, Home Office, Royal College of Midwives and the National Trust. He also worked in local government communications and as a journalist in the commercial sector.

Inger Paus, Managing Director, Vodafone Institute for Society & Communications

Inger is responsible for Vodafone Germany’s corporate responsibility strategy. She is Chairwoman of the Management Board of the Vodafone Foundation Germany and Managing Director of the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications. Before joining Vodafone, Inger held multiple positions in Corporate Affairs and Corporate Communications at Microsoft. As Head of Economic and Social Policy, she developed campaigns and initiatives on issues ranging from digital education and industry 4.0 to the future of work. Furthermore, she led Microsoft’s Berlin Center, which was established to foster the dialogue between government and society. Prior to that, she led Microsoft’s Corporate Communications in Western Europe and Germany. Inger Paus gained her media experience in public service broadcasting and as a consultant for media and technology companies on issues concerning political communications. Follow Inger on Twitter.

Katarzyna Śledziewska, Executive Director, DELab, University of Warsaw

Katarzyna is a professor at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the University of Warsaw. Her interests mainly focus on digital economy, the Digital Single Market strategy, international economy, economic integration and regionalism. Katarzyna is also a member of Readie – Europe’s Research Alliance for a Digital Economy, a member of the Council for Digitization at the Ministry of Digitization and a member of the Council 17 at the 17 Goals Campaign. She is also co-author of a recently published book titled “Digital Economy: How new technologies change the world”. Follow Katarzyna on Twitter.

Marleen Stikker, Founder, Waag

Marleen Stikker founded and leads Waag, a social enterprise that consists of a research institute for creative technologies and social innovation and Waag Products, that launched companies like Fairphone, the first fair smartphone in the world. Marleen also founded ‘De Digitale Stad’ (The Digital City) in 1993, the first virtual community introducing free public access to the Internet in Amsterdam. She is also a member of the European Commission’s H2020 High-level Expert Group for SRIA on innovating Cities/DGResearch and the Dutch AcTI academy for technology & innovation. Follow Marleen on Twitter.

Marco Zappalorto, CEO, Nesta Italia

Marco is the Chief Executive of Nesta Italia and Director of the Social Innovation Design BA at IAAD University. Marco joined Nesta in 2011 and before setting up Nesta Italia he was Head of European Development and he contributed to the set-up of Challenge Prize Centre and led most of the Centre’s European and international work. Follow Marco on Twitter.


Net Partiality, July issue

We’re on a roll with these newsletters now and I can’t wait for you to see what’s coming up this month. Data, data everywhere When technology perpetuates racism: Charlton McIlwain writes for MIT Technology Review about the fascinating origins of criminal justice information systems in the United States. Drawing parallels to the use of technology to trace […]

We’re on a roll with these newsletters now and I can’t wait for you to see what’s coming up this month.

Data, data everywhere

When technology perpetuates racism: Charlton McIlwain writes for MIT Technology Review about the fascinating origins of criminal justice information systems in the United States. Drawing parallels to the use of technology to trace COVID-19 outbreaks and monitor protestors, he highlights the long-term trust-eroding impact of systems whose precursors were designed to target Black people and the civil rights movement. The modern-day impact of historical systems is no clearer than in the process of redlining, by which 1930s US mortgage lenders established maps of subjective assessments of neighbourhood safety that are still affecting people today. Racist judgments made back then have destined many areas to low investment and poor service provision. While the practice of redlining is no longer allowed, decisions are increasingly being made by artificial intelligence, which is slurping up all of the same kinds of data about people and their neighbourhoods. This algorithmic discrimination is more pernicious because it is hidden.

Information overload: We’re facing information overload, being bombarded with too much online news that is too negative to handle, argues Eric Ravenscraft for One Zero. This has implications for our mental health, the business of accountability journalism and the spread of online misinformation, he writes, as we allow ourselves less time to scrutinise stories while accelerating news cycles mean that some public interest reporting gets buried. April and May saw a particularly significant increase in news avoidance: in a recent survey, 59 per cent of respondents said they avoided the news at least ‘sometimes’. 

Threat level: Infodemic: Meanwhile, the WHO and EU have adopted the term ‘infodemic’ to describe the increase in COVID-19-related fake news. In a recent communication, the Commission went as far as saying that China and Russia had actively engaged in targeted disinformation campaigns in Europe ‘to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context.’ In response, the EU is asking online platforms to increase their efforts to tackle the ‘infodemic’ and submit monthly reports on policies and actions taken to improve users’ awareness of disinformation, promote authoritative content and limit advertisement placement. Platforms have also been asked to step up cooperation with researchers at the newly established European Digital Media Observatory, which supports the creation of a cross-border and multidisciplinary community of independent fact-checkers and academic researchers.

Tick-tock, come along now: It’s been two years since the UK Government announced a flagship National Data Strategy to unlock the power of the country’s data and build public trust in its use. We’re still waiting and the issues it could cover are becoming more pressing by the day. Last year’s letter from a group of civil society organisations lays out the top priorities for the strategy, with calls to invest in skills, lead the strategy from the top of Government, and ensure that the public and data users are thoroughly consulted. Will it happen this year?

A new plan to preserve our privacy: Hacks, leaks and sneaky data sharing have become the norm for internet users, now forced to take defensive manoeuvres to protect themselves from untold levels of spam emails, scam calls and ‘pre-approved’ credit cards. Once it’s stolen, it’s impossible to remove it. But how can we challenge surveillance capitalism? Well, we start by forbidding companies to use personal information as a commodity and let the tech companies find new business models, according to this Salon long read. Could this approach to legislation create a new privacy-focused world?

Privacy alone can’t fix today’s power imbalances: Michael Veale, co-developer of the decentralised DP-3T system that inspired Apple and Google’s approach to privacy-aware COVID-19 contact tracing, warns in the Guardian about the perils of confusing privacy with power concentration on the internet. Veale points to ‘federated’ or ‘edge’ computing and cryptographic tools that allow big tech companies to pursue potentially problematic ends without privacy-invasive means. He argues that we need to rethink digital rights because even if the solution adopted by Apple and Google is ‘great for individual privacy… the kind of infrastructural power it enables should give us sleepless nights.’

But the bursting of a new dotcom bubble mightThe adtech industry is heading for a fall according to this piece in The Correspondent from November, which rings true with recent developments. This in-depth analysis recounts trials and tests of the effectiveness of online advertising and finds it lacking, following a handful of case studies including eBay, and concluding that ‘It’s very hard to change behaviour by showing people pictures and movies that they don’t want to look at.’

New things coming up

The apps that nobody controls: A raft of new systems are being created to wrest control of the internet back from the world’s tech companies, and Dfinity has laid down its Internet Computer Protocol in support. Unlike traditional internet services that require central servers, Dfinity’s apps are distributed across the network, moving between servers and distributing cryptocurrency to their temporary hosts. The hope is that users will retain control over their personal data when using the apps and that they’ll be governed by the hivemind rather than a single authority.

The New Tech Cold War: Is the West losing the tech innovation race to China? We’re falling behind on AI, quantum and networking technology, and the Huawei debacle has shone a light on China’s industrial strategy to dominate in these areas. Find out if the UK or the US will manage to break free of Chinese innovation in this audio investigation from BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera.

Speaking of which: 22 French and German companies have banded together to develop common principles for a cloud services platform to serve Europeans. Launching in 2021, GAIA-X will be entirely non-profit, and led by German Minister Peter Altmaier. SAP, Atos, Siemens, Bosch and Deutsche Telekom are all on board. GAIA-X won’t create a direct cloud competitor to challenge US and Chinese services, but initiators hope that it will pave the way for new competitors to arise, while respecting European privacy principles.

And some bits on online content

Not content with what we’ve got: There have been all kinds of activity on content control this month, handily summed up by Mark Scott. France’s highest constitutional court has struck down legislation to force Google, Facebook and other platforms to remove hate content within 24 hours and the UK’s Online Harms Bill has been pushed to next year, but could actually be delayed ‘for years’. At the same time, Germany has approved a law forcing social platforms to report serious incidents of hateful content, the US Department of Justice is pushing to remove platforms’ immunity from lawsuits and Ireland is ramping up efforts to force platforms to build safety into their designs.

Inside the internet’s mind: Adioma has put together an incredible interactive infographic of some of the most popular topics and pieces of content. Inequality, death, kids and the future all feature heavily, with hearty long reads to dig into. Find out how to be mentally strong, how to power Germany with solar and how to die on your own terms.


When mind meets machine: harnessing collective intelligence for Europe

Collective intelligence (CI) has emerged in the last few years as a new field, prompted by a wave of digital technologies that make it possible for organisations and societies to harness the intelligence of many people, and things, on a huge scale. It is a rapidly evolving area, encompassing everything from citizen science to open […]

Collective intelligence (CI) has emerged in the last few years as a new field, prompted by a wave of digital technologies that make it possible for organisations and societies to harness the intelligence of many people, and things, on a huge scale.

It is a rapidly evolving area, encompassing everything from citizen science to open innovation to the potential use of data trusts, and offers enormous new opportunities in fields like sustainability, health and democracy. For Europe, harnessing CI will be critical to achieving its economic and social goals through initiatives like the Green New Deal or Next Generation Internet.

 A quick primer

Collective intelligence is created when people work together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas and insights to address a social challenge.

As an idea, it isn’t new. It’s based on the theory that groups of diverse people are collectively smarter than any single individual on their own. The premise is that intelligence is distributed. Different people hold different pieces of information and different perspectives that, when combined, create a more complete picture of a problem and how to solve it. The intelligence of the crowd can be further augmented by combining these insights with data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Bringing these two elements can be extremely powerful but the field is still emerging and it isn’t always clear how to do it well.

Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design is at the forefront of both research and practice in this space, and has recently developed a Collective Intelligence Playbook to support others to harness CI more effectively.

Click here to explore Nesta’s Collective Intelligence Playbook

To explore the opportunities for Europe and the European Commission’s NGI initiative further, Nesta held a workshop as part of the MyData event in Helsinki in September. In this workshop, we introduced participants to the concept of collective intelligence and asked: how can we best combine the intelligence of the crowd and artificial intelligence to solve some of today’s largest societal problems? 

During the workshop Peter Baeck, Head of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design at Nesta and Aleks Berditchevskaia, Senior Researcher on collective intelligence explained the concept of CI and then took workshop participants through the Collective Intelligence Toolkit developed by Nesta.

Katja Henttonen, project manager in e-democracy for Helsinki, provided a live case study introduction to CI in practice through a demonstration of the Decidim online democracy and participatory budgeting tools currently being trialled in the city. 

Using the collective intelligence toolkit canvas and method prompt cards the groups were given an hour to work on a number of practical problem statements, exploring several challenges in the internet space, opportunities around collective intelligence were explored, as well as questions about how CI can be practically used at scale, learning from exciting case studies from around the world.

What did we learn from the workshop?

  • Workshop participants saw huge potential in using CI and the toolkit In particular participants were excited to be introduced to new methods such as citizen science or using satellite data for collective intelligence.  
  • There is a clear need for better practical guidance, such as Nesta’s playbook, on what CI is and how it can be applied by organisations. Workshop participants suggested this could be done through further development of practical tools and guides for how to design for CI and the creation of open repositories or data bases on CI methods and use cases. Within this, participants highlighted the need to make the support for CI as practical as possible and suggested connecting any research, investment and support for CI to specific social challenges, such as climate change, fake news or digital democracy.
  • Of the different tools and methods to enable CI, the workshop highlighted a particular interest in understanding the relationship between human and machine intelligence in enabling different forms of CI and raised three challenges/questions: 
  1. Better understanding of the different functions in the relationship between human and machine intelligence and how to design solutions that tap into the benefits of these while maintaining strong ethical frameworks and give individuals control of the data they want to contribute to the collective and how this can be used.
  2. Knowledge on how AI enabled CI can be applied and used within grassroots networks and NGO’s to better mobilise volunteers, activists and community group to identify and solve common challenges is needed.
  3. Funding that explicitly focuses on bringing together the AI community with the CI community is needed to foster new forms of collaboration.