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To help policymakers navigate the impact of digitalisation and understand their potential to influence it, Readie has published a series of Explainers.

© European Union 2014 - European Parliament

European governments have taken radically different approaches to digital policy.

  • In France, Emmanuel Macron is working to create a startup friendly environment and has appointed a Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.
  • In Germany, the three parties trying to form a government argue over creating a digital ministry, bundling responsibilities in one person or leaving them with the separate ministries.
  • The Polish government reportedly is considering scrapping its Ministry of Digital Affairs, only created in 2015.
  • Denmark has appointed a digital “ambassador” to liaise with global tech firms and cultivate direct links.
  • The UK has had a Minister of State for Digital since 2010 and this year added Digital to the official title of the relevant ministry.
  • In addition to its member states, the EU also has a Digital Agenda aimed at improving digital services and single market, as well as influencing it through competition and data protection policy, to name just two areas.

These approaches to organising government responses to digitalisation illustrate the variety in policy across the continent. Many politicians and policymakers have definitely recognised digitalisation as an important challenge, but are not always sure which aspects to address and how.

Many of the policymakers Readie brought together in Stockholm said that creating a common understanding within governments and finding ways to implement digital policy remain important challenges.

Why digital policy is tricky – and why it matters

Digital policy is complex because it touches so many areas of life. As the debate in Germany reflects, digitalisation requires responses in all areas of government policy. This makes it hard to decide whether to aim for digital awareness in all policymakers or concentrate responsibility in special units and departments. Critics allege that the diffusion of responsibility in Germany has led to delays and inaction. A more centralised approach could start by making the state itself more digital, where civil servants themselves are calling for modernisation.

But the transformation cannot stop there. There is urgency to resolve how – or even whether – to regulate international tech companies and their activities in sectors as diverse as transportation, hospitality or retail. Artificial intelligence is a key future industry, which is already deployed in businesses and government, but raises ethical concerns. Today’s workforce need to be equipped now with the digital skills for the future. Policymakers need to establish which technical and social skills are going to be key and enable people to acquire them.

The collection of data opens many debates about proper collection, processing and use. Whether governments should open up their data for use, what companies should be allowed to record, and how all actors can protect their private information are all huge, complicated questions.

Other areas include new technologies, such as autonomous systems for analysis, robotics and driverless cars, as well as innovations to the finance sector.

All of these challenges will fundamentally affect the competitiveness of European countries and their citizens’ lives.

The Readie Explainers

Whatever path governments chose, they will need a sound basis of information to decide which topics to tackle first by investigating, running trials, shaping overall policy and changing mindsets in government and society.

Readie has launched a series of explainers, aimed at clarifying important issues in digitalisation. These short pieces briefly explain a topic, outline the most important debates around it and provide further introductory reading. They are designed to provide a starting point for exploring important digital issues, setting aside both hype and doomsday prophecies in favour of clear information.

The first three in the Readie Explainers series – Digital Skills, Sharing Economy, and Artificial Intelligence – are published on the Readie website.

Further explainers will follow in the coming months covering topics such as big data, machine learning, and the internet of things.

This article was originally published by Nesta.