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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NGI FORWARD (NGI FORWARD)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

NGI Forward is the strategy and policy arm of the Next Generation Internet (NGI), a flagship initiative by the European Commission, which seeks to build a more democratic, resilient and inclusive future internet. The project is tasked with setting out an ambitious vision for what we want the future internet to look like, and identifying the concrete building blocks - from new technologies to policy interventions - that might help bring us closer towards that vision.

NGI Forward is made up of an international consortium of seven partners: Nesta in the United Kingdom, which leads the project, DELab at the University of Warsaw in Poland, Edgeryders in Estonia, the City of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Nesta Italia in Italy, Aarhus University in Denmark and Resonance Design in Belgium. The NGI Forward project commenced in January 2019 and will run until December 2021.

The project’s work can be divided in five pillars:

Topic and stakeholder mapping: Through employing cutting-edge data science methodologies we map emerging trends and communities in the internet and innovation space, ensuring we remain responsive to rapidly changing dynamics.
Research & policy roadmaps: We conduct in-depth research into key building blocks for the future internet, from technologies such as online identity systems, to policy interventions like procurement, and identify how the European Commission can best seize upon and steer their development.
Consultation through collective intelligence: We involve stakeholders from across Europe beyond the usual suspects to join us in a lively debate about the future of the internet we want to see.
Stakeholder engagement: We identify the key innovators, thinkers, researchers and policy influencers in our priority areas for the future internet, and bring these groups together through engaging events and online activities.
Future vision: We set out a forward-facing and ambitious vision for a more democratic, resilient, sustainable, trustworthy and inclusive future internet, bringing together learning from the previous four pillars.
We have already made significant headway with achieving this objective during the first half of the project, and will continue to ‘harvest’ the groundwork laid during this first reporting period in the more outreach and engagement focused second half of NGI Forward.

We have launched our interactive Policy Lab website, which brings together our in-depth reports, responsive blogs, exploratory newsletter, and thought pieces about the internet, internet policy and emerging innovation. We have already released reports on wide-ranging, topical issues such as the sustainability of the internet, online identity, internet search, collective intelligence and technology trustmarks. Our work has so far generated 180,000 views.

In this first half of the project, our efforts have focused on setting out the future research direction and our vision for the future internet. This work has culminated in the release of our 80+-page vision paper, which sets out an ambitious vision for a more democratic, resilient, sustainable, trustworthy and inclusive future internet by 2030, and outlines how Europe can move from being a reactive, regulatory force to a proactive innovation superpower in its own right. To make this vision more tangible, we have also set out many concrete policy recommendations, summarised in our Policy Roadmaps report, and further detailed in our policy reports on sustainability of the internet and the European Green Deal, procurement of fair AI, technology trustmarks, identity and more. We will continue to expand on this portfolio of ideas in the second half of the project, and reach out to policymakers across all layers of governance to encourage them to adopt elements of our vision.

As the NGI’s Policy and Strategy arm, we have already organised many highly interactive and future-facing events, targeting different audiences: from events in the European Parliament on Europe’s regulatory power to public webinars on shaping a more human-centric post-COVID internet. We have so far organised 34 events, from workshops to summits, bringing together nearly 2,000 participants. Now that physical events are difficult, we have seamlessly pivoted to more online engagement, such as webinars. Our upcoming Policy Summit on September 28 and 29 (which was initially scheduled to take place in June 2020 but had to be delayed because of COVID-19), which will bring together leading policymakers for two days of discussions about tangible interventions that could support Europe making the objectives of the NGI a reality.

Our online Exchange Platform, which already had 3,023 contributions in the first half of the project, forms an avenue through which our various stakeholders can connect and continue to discuss the important topics we focus on online, which allows us to keep up momentum after events and harness the collective intelligence that emerges from these types of interactions. By combining events and online conversation in this way, we have been able to grow a lively community, who feel meaningfully engaged in the NGI. So far, we have had 227 unique participants. Through ethnographic mapping, we were able to also actually capture very meaningful insights from these conversations, data which flowed back into our data-driven analysis and identification of trends and dynamics, showcasing once more the strong links between the various elements of the project.

Using novel methodologies such as machine learning, natural language processing and other data science tools, we were able to map emerging trends and dynamics in the internet ecosystem. Insights generated from this cutting-edge research were used to identify a first series of eight key topics likely to shape the future internet (both social and technological issues) that were put forward to the European Commission as recommendations for the design of future NGI funds. These analyses, which have been turned into highly interactive and easy-to-understand data visualisations so as to be more accessible to a general- and policymaker audience, have not just been used to inform the selection of this set of topics, but have proven much more versatile. Indeed, the consortium has shown its responsiveness and agility by rejigging these tools to map conversations in the context of COVID-19, allowing policymakers to understand emerging conversations about, for example, contact-tracing apps.
There are many examples of our impact described in our Annex B report. Some examples:
* Our data-driven research has not only helped us inform the direction of future European Commission funding agendas in the space of NGI, but has also helped us push beyond the state of the art, as evidenced by a number of
acceptances of our work into high-profile publications and conferences.
* We extended our custom software tool “Open Ethnographer” for qualitative data analysis to be able to process multimedia content. To our knowledge, this makes it the first collaborative, source-integrated QDA tool that can handle the full range of typical web content. It may other ethnographic researchers to upgrade their work practices as they are increasingly dealing with content that originates on the Internet.
Logo of our NGI vision
Finding CTRL print edition