Universities to run major research examining impact of digitised services on ethnic minorities

Researchers from five institutions will participate in £3.3m project examining whether channel shift has reinforced existing inequalities as well as creating new ones

Credit: Santeri Viinamäki/CC BY-SA 4.0

Researchers from five universities are leading a £3.3m project to determine how digitised services impact on minority ethnic groups.

The Protecting Minority Ethnic Communities Online (Prime) project, which is being funded by UK government-backed body UK Research and Innovation, will investigate whether minority groups have been adversely affected by services relating to health, housing and energy moving online as a result of the pandemic.

As part of that, the project will look into whether existing inequalities have been reproduced or exacerbated online, as well as whether new discriminatory processes have been created.

The team is made up of researchers from Heriot-Watt, the Open University, Cranfield University, and the Universities of Glasgow and York. They will work along with the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online.  

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Organisations contributing to the research include the Muslim Council of Britain, Public Health Scotland, the NHS Race and Health Observatory and The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. 

Lead researcher Dr Gina Netto, a reader in international and forced migration at Heriot-Watt, said: “Our multi-disciplinary team has worked collaboratively to engage with a wide range of organisations to design rigorous social and technical methods to deepen understanding of the nature of online harm experienced by minority ethnic communities. 

“Together with our partner organisations, Prime will play an important role in tackling racial inequality and improving service provision for the UK’s increasingly diverse citizens. It will also serve as an international exemplar of the critical role that research can play in not only increasing knowledge but in the redesigning and embedding of processes within institutional systems to advance racial equality.” 

Professor Stephen McLaughlin, deputy principal, research and impact, at Heriot-Watt added: “This project is urgently needed to prevent further risk of discrimination and marginalisation, adding to societal division. This significant funding award demonstrates the skills within the research team and the potential to apply this research internationally with Prime serving as an exemplar of socially engaged, linguistically responsive and responsible artificial intelligence.”


Sam Trendall

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