The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) has been established with an investment from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) equivalent to £8m commencing in January 2020 for five years. It aims to advance understanding of how digital technologies are reshaping work. It examines the impact and interaction of these technologies for employers, employees and their representatives, job seekers and governments. It will provide theoretically informed, empirically evidenced and policy relevant analysis of the benefits, risks and challenges for companies operating in the UK and abroad. This analysis draws on international, interdisciplinary and innovative mixed methods approaches. Further details are contained on the Digit website.
The centre is co-directed by Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly (University of Sussex Business School) and Professor Mark Stuart (Leeds University Business School). Additional partners include the Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge and Manchester in the UK and Monash in Australia. The CBR’s contribution is part of Digit’s Research Theme 1, which is looking at the impact of digitalisation on work an employment. This work is being led by Simon Deakin.
Aims and objectives
The overall aim of the Digit Research Centre is to generate new knowledge to inform the development of an analytical framework around the concept of the ‘connected worker’ and the ‘connected economy’. To this end it will maximise knowledge exchange and co-produced research with relevant communities; establish a new Data Observatory as a one-platform library of national and international resources for decision-makers connecting with UK Industrial Strategy and welfare policy; initiate an Innovation Fund providing financial support for new research initiatives and methodological approaches, enabling international exchanges and extensive dissemination; provide a strong career development programme for mid and early career researchers through mentoring and staff development, internships and summer school; and ensure the long-term sustainability of the centre by developing an MSc in People Analytics informed by Digit research.
As part of the Digit research programme, the CBR will conduct socio-Legal analysis aimed at studying how how the employment/self-employment binary divide is legally and statistically constructed in countries with different legal traditions and levels of development, how digitalisation is changing traditional legal conceptualisation of work, and whether correlations exist between the growth of the digital economy and employment regulation in selected countries. This will involve the collection and analysis of legal data, using ‘leximetric’ coding techniques to create a dataset of national employment laws and in sectors affected by new digital platforms and automation. We will estimate econometrically, using time-series and dynamic panel data analysis, the impact of the legal framework on employment growth and outcomes in light of trends in digitalisation.
During 2020 work began developing a conceptual framework for studying the impact of digital technologies on issues of employment law including the classification of workers as employees and independent contractors. In addition, preparations were undertaken for the coding of labour law data with a view to constructing new dataset of laws affecting work carried out through platforms and other types of digital intermediation. This work was completed in the summer of 2023.
Simon Deakin, Bhumika Billa Louise Bishop and Tvisha Shroff have completed an updated version of the CBR-LRI dataset covering labour laws in 117 countries for the period 1970-2022. This is due to be published in the autumn of 2023. In addition, Louise Bishop and Simon Deakin have made substantial progress on the construction of a new dataset tracking changes in the law relating to platform work and precarious employment more generally. This dataset will be published in 2024.
Kamelia Pourkermani joined the project in 2022 to carry out time series econometric analysis of the CBR-LRI dataset. The first results of Kamelia’s research will be published in the autumn of 2023.
During 2021 Simon Deakin commented on the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Uber case in an Industrial Law Society webinar and in his contribution to the 7th edition of the Deakin and Morris textbook on Labour Law. In the course of 2022 Simon published 2 law review articles on themes related to law and computation and gave lectures on labour law and research methods on two overseas visits, one to the University of the Republic, Montevideo, Uruguay, and the other at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.