Research in progress: Reflections at Digit’s halfway point

5 October 2022

Digit launched with great enthusiasm in January 2020 and was plunged into lockdown two months later.   Two and a half years later, halfway through the first phase of our five year funding, we met for our annual meeting in Leeds.

Against the background of a global pandemic, agile adaption across dispersed geographical locations has become part of the centre’s DNA. The vibrant and rapid response to these challenges, alongside the volumes of research produced in this period, were clearly evident in our discussions.  The timing of the centre couldn’t have been more apposite in light of the consequences of the pandemic and its impact on the digital transformation of work.

Midway through the first phase of our centre, then, what have we learned?

1 Big is beautiful

Digit is a large £8m ESRC flagship research centre that has grown from the initial 30 plus co-investigators, to more than 80 researchers and associate fellows in our wider network. The Directors aimed large: a centre is so much more than a series of individual projects. The value has been to connect interdisciplinary teams of researchers and stakeholders from across the globe working outside siloes, and to increase the breath and knowledge of the digital transformation of work with new conceptual and empirical evidence.

Progress is at pace, with researchers working across all four research themes. Early evidence from the Employer Digital Practices at Work Survey was discussed along with conceptual debates around the ‘connected worker’, business sector case studies and engagement with promoting employee voice and working with disconnected communities. This research has involved engaged collaboration with civil society stakeholders and extensive support for a strong and lively group of Mid and Early Career Researcher (MECR) Network. We are really proud of this and the incredible work of the team in making this happen.

At the Data Observatory, led by Chris and Emma we look forward to showcasing the next tranche of findings in our blogs and data commentaries, and invite everyone – researchers, policy makers, businesses, unions and civil society organisations – to engage with the fascinating outputs that continue to emerge.

Digit is well set to achieving its core goal of becoming a one-stop shop for relevant, state-of-the art research about digital futures at work.

2 We are truly Interdisciplinary

Interdisciplinary work is not always easy. Digit brings together lively debates from sociology, economics, law, psychology, geography, employee relations, HRM, operations and supply chain management. These different theoretical and methodological traditions contribute to a vibrant learning platform with innovative empirical evidence and ethical considerations. Already a number of these interdisciplinary debates have been published in journals, books, policy publications, data commentaries, blogs and working papers. Planned special issues in New Technology, Work and Employment, and the Cambridge Journal of Economics address different perspectives on the Future of Working Time and the New Social Relations of Digital Technology. Online seminars from the popular Digit Debates series brings together interdisciplinarity of perspectives from across the globe together with Digit researchers, increasing the transparency and accessibility of this knowledge.

3 We are not working in silos

As members were asked to join their ‘Research Theme’ colleagues for an impact discussion on the morning of Day 2, it became evident that many investigators were faced with a choice. Few Digit researchers are operating in siloed themes but are actively crossing categories and contributing to a number of domains in different ways. Jackie O’Reilly and Mark Stuart commented that this was something to be proud of and is evidence of a truly collaborative knowledge-exchange and multi-expertise environment. Rather than being restricted by our specialisms, Digit is allowing researchers to form new networks and collaborate with colleagues they may not normally have the opportunity to work with.

4 A supportive bedrock is key

From the seamless organisation, to the fingertip knowledge about all aspects of centre life, it became clear (if it wasn’t already) that the Digit support team is stellar. Megan McMichael (Research Centre Manager)’s unbelievable ability to have (and retain) an impressively detailed understanding of who is doing what, when, why and for what purpose, was deservedly applauded. Sophie Valeix (Centre Administrator)’s conscientious organisational skills, and Gemma Smith (Research Communications & Impact Manager)’s wealth of experience and wisdom for all things impact and communication, ensure the centre is supported to run smoothly and to make a difference. Having this infrastructure in place, to ensure that researchers can get on with researching, is no mean feat and the Digit community were pleased to acknowledge how important and valuable the support team are.

5 Achieve and be kind

The mid-way point is a good opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the future. The speed and breath of our work has been rapid. The next phase will be equally challenging: plans for books, disseminating findings and engaging with key stakeholders will be key.

When asked what makes a good centre, Jackie replied: “Meaningful research questions; powerful administrative support; and most important, but too often neglected: Emotional Intelligence. In these challenging times with a very ambitious agenda we also need to remember to be kind to each other.”

We look forward to working together over the next two and a half years from this strong foundation to deliver important new insights on the ongoing transformation of work.

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