Staff exchange projects are amongst the casualties of 2020’s pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions. The Promoting Research on Digitalisation in Emerging Powers and Europe Towards Sustainable Development (PRODIGEES) (www.prodigees.info) project proves to be a powerful and encouraging exception. PRODIGEES, which receives funding from the European Union through Horizon 2020’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (MSCA-RISE), is coordinated by DIE, harnessing its Managing Global Governance (MGG) network to strengthen knowledge cooperation between Europe and non-European research institutes. PRODIGEES’ value was highlighted in an issue of DIE’s Current Column in April 2020.
PRODIGEES hosted its kickoff meeting on 30th March, coinciding with the lockdown measures being imposed across Europe. Instead of taking place in Berlin, the conference was hosted virtually, balancing time zones and new conferencing etiquette. This gave the project’s Steering Committee the ability to take immediate action. Within two months the Consortium agreed to adapt the original secondment plan, onboard new partners, and thereby mitigate the risks posed by the national and international reactions to COVID-19. DIE contacted PRODIGEES’ Project Officer in Brussels, setting in motion a contingency plan to stabilise the project through the uncertainties of the pandemic.
Before the initial lockdown, PRODIGEES piloted its program in January with a research secondment performed by Prof. Dr. Ingrid Schneider of the University of Hamburg. While the pandemic brought exchanges to a standstill, the PRODIGEES team used Prof. Schneider’s experience to further develop its programme. Since then, the Steering Committee has postponed all secondments until 2021, with the exception of two researchers arriving to Germany from Instituto Mora in Mexico City. Still, PRODIGEES hosted an event in October for its Transnational Open Access Training, taking the form of an academic module on Sustainable Digitalisation for DIE’s virtual MGG Academy.
Research on sustainable digitalisation is imperative, as more of our work and social lives take place online, and as the pandemic exploits inequalities around the globe. Data privacy and protection is a topic of strong concern, with each country and each organization deciding for themselves how to balance efficiency and convenience with privacy and security. Ingrid Schneider’s PRODIGEES publication, “Democratic Governance of Digital Platforms and Artificial Intelligence?”, speaks to the power struggle between regional models of data procurement and ownership.
Data privacy is only one of the project’s subject areas. PRODIGEES research is split between two main work packages, “Governance and Society” and “Economy and Environment”. These wide umbrellas inspire a diverse range of research topics with local to global foci. Topics range from big data collection in India, blockchain use in Brazil, the Internet of Things for sustainable development in Indonesia, artificial intelligence in climate mitigation and the list goes on among over 80 different research projects.
The ‘digital divide’ was the theme of Dr. Carlos Dominguez’ PRODIGEES research when he seconded to Germany from Instituto Mora this fall. In lieu of Horizon 2020’s pandemic regulations, and due to DIE’s own coronavirus measures, Dr. Dominguez came to Germany but did not perform all of his research within the halls of DIE. As most of DIE staff, he performed his research partly remotely and converted his PRODIGEES workshop, “Digital, but still Unequal: the challenges of digitalisation for emerging powers – Mexico” into a virtual workshop. The virtual workshop used social theories to explore the concept of the ‘digital divide’ in categories such as capital, education, labor skills and cultural production. Using innovative tools such as Zoom’s breakout rooms and Mural’s collaborative boards, Dr. Dominguez demonstrated the power of digitalisation in overcoming some of the barriers raised by COVID-19.
The coronavirus may have impeded PRODIGEES’ initial momentum, but the European Commission’s flexibility for Horizon 2020 projects allowed the quick-acting network to retain the integrity of its mission.
In an age when digital tools hold great promise and great risk, and when a pandemic has made us all more digitally dependent, PRODIGEES research remains more pertinent and more necessary than ever.