The Personal Data and Trust Network

The Personal Data and Trust Network

Panel Event with Belarus Free Theatre at the Digital Catapult | Photo Credit: Lyndsey Bakewell and Loughborough University

By Prof Mike Wilson (Loughborough University)

The Personal Data and Trust Network is an initiative established between EPSRC, the Digital Catapult, the Knowledge Transfer Network, Innovate UK and the three RCUK Digital Economy Hubs. It consists of ten thematically-defined groups and, along with Dr Alan Chamberlain from the University of Nottingham, I co-convene the Social and Cultural Innovation Group. The aim of the group is to map out the landscape of research challenges and emerging issues in relation to personal data and trust in this area of cultural and social innovation, including social justice. It is intended that the community itself will set the agenda by identifying key areas and the set of sub challenges pertaining to them. It is hoped that this will lead to the development of a series of cross-disciplinary and collaborative projects and initiatives, led by the community that seek to address these challenges and can be submitted to funding bodies for support. In addition the community should become a repository for expertise in this area to feed in policy advice, as appropriate, and for media communication. 

So far we have held two events, with additional activity planned for the coming months. In October 2015, in collaboration with PaCCS Leadership Fellow Professor Tom Sorell from Warwick University, we organised an agenda-setting workshop on the subject of ‘Digilantism and Crowdjustice’. About two dozen academics from all over the UK, ranging from professors to early career researchers, came together to discuss the growing phenomenon of online judging and shaming and to identify areas of common interest with potential for future research. This will now be followed up with a further workshop in July to support the development of the agenda into realizable collaborative research projects.

Also, in April 2016, we hosted an evening panel discussion at the Digital Catapult in Euston Road, in collaboration with the Belarus Free Theatre (the only theatre company in Europe banned by its home government, and currently the UK’s only ‘theatre in exile’) on personal data and trust for dissident and exiled artists and arts groups. This is not only an issue for the artists themselves, whose communications are regularly intercepted and their websites hacked, but also for their audiences who run risks by sharing personal data, such as names, email mail addresses and mobile phone numbers with the artists. The panel, chaired by myself, included Dr Larry Lynch (Belarus Free Theatre), Julia Farrington (Index on Censorship), Paul Finnegan (Belarus Free Theatre and formerly of PEN International) and John Downey (Professor of Comparative Media, Loughborough University). It was a fascinating evening of discussion and debate and we hope to be able to post an ‘edited highlights’ of the event up on the website soon.

Our plans for the future include a series of workshops around the theme of ‘heritage’, recognizing that the internet has increasingly become a site for individuals to curate their own lives through the publication of photographs and memories, which include large amounts of personal information.

If you are interested in the Social and Cultural Innovation Group, or the Personal Data and Trust Network more generally, you can register on the website at


Prof Mike Wilson is Professor of Drama at Loughborough University. He has particular research interests in all forms of storytelling practice and, in particular, in the use of storytelling in social and policy contexts, as a way of introducing new ways of knowing and thinking into public discourse. He is Principal Investigator on the ESRC-funded project, LIDA: Loneliness in the Digital Age and also for The EMoTICON Network, which brings together a series of projects exploring ‘Empathy and Trust in Online Communication’. He is also co-convenor of the Social and Cultural Innovation strand of The Personal Data and Trust Network.