A History of British Digital Policy

Currently recruiting

Supervisor: Jack Brown

Non-accademic partner: Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

Studentship start date: 01/10/2024

Application deadline: TBC

This PhD will produce the first thematic, cross-departmental history of the emergence and development of a ‘digital policy’ in UK government. It will trace this process from the arrival of the internet, which necessitated a rapid government response in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to the recent establishment of the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology and subsequent developments up to the present day.

The project will investigate the definition and origins of the concept of a ‘digital policy’, with a particular focus on the British context. It will explore the impacts of key technological advancements on both the policy work and the machinery of government, and how successive administrations have responded to these changes.

Whilst relatively new to UK government, digital policy has already proved hugely important. It has impacted widely across the work of government: from education and skills policy to business and commerce; from dealing with regulatory and legal issues to the government’s role in facilitating the provision of the technological infrastructure needed across the nation. The PhD will trace the evolution of the government-wide response to the sudden arrival of the internet and rapid developments in digital technologies, developing understanding of the process to date and providing lessons for future policy.

The project will benefit from close partnership with the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, who will provide privileged access to primary source material, from digital and physical archival material to elite interviews with those officials and ministers tasked with developing digital policy over the years. Many of these individuals have already moved on, whether to work on another aspect of government policy or leaving government entirely. It is therefore vital that these lessons are captured before institutional memory of such a rapidly evolving aspect of government policy is lost forever.

Ultimately, this project will seek to provide vital lessons from the short but explosive contemporary history of UK government digital policy, from the late 1980s up to the present day. In examining for the first time the strengths, weaknesses, missed opportunities and successes of the development of UK government digital policy, it will provide today’s officials with a historical dimension to contemporary policymaking, helping provide the context and knowledge to inform better decision-making today.