The Internet Interdisciplinary Institute's (IN3) strategic plan for 2023-2026 aims to consolidate the institute as a spearhead in the field of research into digital society. This research focuses both on the role of digital technologies in shaping contemporary society and on the social, cultural and economic dimensions that make up these technologies. The uniqueness of the IN3 lies in its interdisciplinary research, fostering joint work, dialogue and collaboration between engineering, social sciences and humanities.
In the last decade there has been an increase in the use of online platforms for communication and collaboration, and in the adoption of technologies to automate and optimize processes. This has forced many organizations to adapt to increasing digital demands, and more online sales and digital payments. In general, there has been a major acceleration in the digital transformation of many organizations, which has highlighted the importance of adapting to new technologies in order to survive in an increasingly digital environment.
The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya's (UOC) IN3 institute is particularly well-positioned to deal with this digital transformation on a global scale, as its mission is to study how society and technology, especially the internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs), intertwine and shape each other. Beyond their commitment to scientific rigour, the IN3's studies and research lines seek to help people and organizations understand and address the problems, opportunities and challenges presented by the growing digitalization of society.
In addition to its mission to study and research the implications of technology, the IN3 also aims to play a leading role in digital transformation on a global scale. Therefore, as well as observing and analysing trends and developments in digital society, it is firmly committed to co-producing and sharing research results to contribute to a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable society. This must be done through an open model that encourages sociotechnological collaborations with groups, organizations and companies that are committed to these values.
This strategic plan was drawn up by means of a participatory process that began in November 2019 and allowed the main aims to be discussed and agreed with various groups. Between November 2019 and July 2022, several working sessions were held with the research groups to carry out a strategic analysis of the new plan and agree on its main aims. This process was also presented and discussed at various IN3 plenary meetings.
However, the plan is considered a living document in which actions will be reviewed and readjusted according to the achievement indicators, any new challenges that may appear, or strategic and operational changes. In addition, the IN3 also aims to foster and implement responsible ways of assessing research through international movements such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (COARA).
The design of the new strategic plan sought to involve not just the IN3's research groups but also their individual members, thus trying to include as many visions, fields of knowledge, talents and roles from the institute as possible.
This process also included an analysis of the main documents that are relevant to the institute's strategic plan, including institutional documents and reflections on the UOC's more general strategic plan, feedback from the IN3's Scientific Committee, and international frameworks and initiatives of special relevance to the IN3's strategic plan.
Digital society is a concept that describes the transition towards a society in which digital technologies are ubiquitous and become a key factor in shaping our contemporary technological, social and cultural interactions, ecosystems and environments. This society is characterized by the widespread use of the internet and other digital technologies, and by the ability to process, store and share networked information.
Therefore, it appears to be clear that a research institution such as the IN3 – whose groups and members possess expertise in social sciences, humanities and computer engineering in equal measures – is an ideal ecosystem not only to study how digital society takes shape but also to actively contribute to its development, thus becoming an agent of change and transformation for a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable society.
Interdisciplinarity is a methodological and philosophical approach that involves collaboration and cooperation between different disciplines in order to address complex problems and global challenges. This approach seeks to combine perspectives, methodologies and knowledge from each of the different disciplines to generate a more integrated understanding of the problem or challenge in question. Interdisciplinarity involves building bridges between different disciplines in order to foster dialogue, collaboration and mutual learning.
Figure 1. Interdisciplinarity in the context of digital society
Breaking down the disciplinary barrier between ICT engineering, social sciences and humanities requires the promotion of collaboration and dialogue between the various disciplinary fields. This can be done, for example, by creating interdisciplinary teams to carry out joint research projects. These teams will be made up of researchers with expertise in different disciplines, who will work together to address complex problems or challenges from different perspectives.
In addition, interdisciplinarity should not be limited to the IN3's members and groups, but will also include the UOC's faculties and research centres and beyond (UOC+), contributing to interinstitutional projects with the participation of experts from the various disciplines.
In order for all this to happen, an interdisciplinary theme will be promoted within the IN3 to provide members with tools and examples of good practices in interdisciplinary research that will help them acquire a broader and more diverse vision of the problems and challenges they address.
The creation of spaces for dialogue and collaboration, such as forums, working groups or interdisciplinary networks of researchers, will also be fostered. These initiatives will enable researchers from different disciplines to share ideas, collaborate on joint projects and establish synergies that can lead to new lines of research and challenges.
Finally, we want to promote the implementation of responsible and inclusive research assessment methods. This includes diversifying the assessment criteria to take into account interdisciplinary aspects, the dimensions of gender equity and the gender perspective, and the promotion of initiatives that value research based on its capacity to have a societal impact and not only on its contribution to scientific knowledge.
In accordance with this strategic plan, it is important to establish a roadmap with three key elements:
Firstly, it is important to go beyond the organization of the institute into research groups and create meeting spaces around shared challenges when it comes to making sense of digital society. Throughout the process of shaping this strategic plan, up to four main pillars that should constitute the starting point for finding more interdisciplinary and collaborative lines of research for the IN3 have been discussed and agreed upon. These pillars are equity, sustainability, well-being and participation. These four pillars can also bring a uniqueness and distinct identity to the IN3 in the international network of centres with a similar focus.
Secondly, the previous strategic plan for the IN3 proposed evolving from a model of juxtaposition of groups and disciplines combined under a multidisciplinary umbrella towards a more collaborative and interdisciplinary model in which dialogue and a greater integration of disciplines would be possible. In this strategic plan, the aim is to go a step further and go deeper, especially through these interdisciplinary pillars, with an increasingly porous and integrated collaboration model that is capable of transcending disciplines and groups' organizational structure to create an increasingly transdisciplinary space. In relation to other similar institutes and research centres, succeeding with this working model can make the IN3 unique in terms of both academic excellence and societal relevance. This model will also make it possible to take greater advantage of the diversity and wealth of knowledge and disciplines already contained and integrated in the various research groups and in the institute as a whole.
Thirdly, in order to support these ambitious aims, it is also important for the institute to promote and implement its own research assessment system that assesses these transformations and their impacts in terms of excellence, collaboration, equity and societal relevance, thus bringing its assessment into line with international movements for the reformation of research assessment such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (COARA). The IN3 is establishing the objective of promoting and implementing responsible research assessment methods.