Denmark’s digital ambassador: should the UK be following suit?

 

By Steven McGinty

On 26 January, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that they would be appointing the world’s first ‘digital ambassador’ to act as the nation’s representative to major technology companies, such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

At a conference on the future of the Foreign Service, the Foreign Minister, Anders Samuelsen, explained that:

Denmark must be at the forefront of technological development. Technological advances are making such a great impact on our society that it has become a matter of foreign policy. I have therefore decided to announce the appointment of a digitisation ambassador.

In a follow up interview with Danish newspaper Politken, Mr Samuelsen expressed his belief that multinational technology giants “affect Denmark just as much as entire countries”. He highlighted the examples of Apple and Google whose market values are so large that if they were countries they would only narrowly miss out from inclusion in the G20 – the global forum for cooperation between the world’s 20 major economies.

As a result of this economic strength, together with tech firms’ impact on the everyday lives of citizens, Mr Samuelsen argues that the technology sector should be treated as a form of ‘new nation’, which Denmark must develop closer relationships with.

Cooperation between nation states and the technology sector

Technology companies are becoming involved in activities that were once reserved for nation states. For example, Mr Samuelsen’s Liberal party accepts donations in Bitcoin – an online currency which challenges the state’s role as the only issuer of legal tender. And Microsoft have signed a partnership agreement with the French Ministry of Education to provide teacher training, in order to prepare teachers for running special coding classes.

The technology industry argues that it is better placed than national governments to provide effective digital services, at cheaper prices. In terms of national security, computer engineering expert and academic, Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, argues that this is probably the case. Mr Ganascia highlights that Google and Facebook have vast image databases that enable them to use facial recognition software far better than any national security service. Therefore, countries have started working with technology companies on a variety of crime and public safety issues.

Citizens are also spending greater amounts of time on social media platforms. In an interview with The Washington Post, Mr Samuelsen stated that more than half of the world’s data has been created in the past two years (much of this from major platforms such as Facebook). This trend has implications for the privacy of citizens and the spreading of false information, a phenomena that has been labelled ‘fake news’. These issues are fundamentally important for citizens and nation states, and are likely to increase cooperation between countries and the technology sector.

Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs

Although Denmark will be the first country to introduce a digital ambassador, another government has made a similar appointment. In January, Dr Tobias Feakin was appointment as Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs. His role focuses on cyber-security, but also includes issues such as censorship and promoting internet access. At this stage, it’s unclear whether Dr Feakin will have direct contact with technology companies and whether this relationship will involve discussions over economic issues such as taxation.

Is a digital ambassador necessary?

Not everyone, however, is buying into the appointment of a government representative focused solely on digital issues. Technology journalist, Emma Woollacott, believes that it’s a ‘terrible idea’.

According to Ms Woollacott, Denmark already has a good relationship with technology companies, highlighting that Facebook has recently announced plans to build a new data centre in Odense, creating 150 new permanent jobs. These views may have some merit, as Mr Samuelsen has confirmed that the deal between the Foreign Ministry and Facebook was the result of three years of behind-the-scenes work.

Ms Woollacott also argues that Denmark is setting a worrying precedent by equating a private company to a nation state.  In her view, the importance of the technology sector could have been acknowledged through hiring knowledge staff, rather than granting it a ‘unique political status’.

However, Professor Jan Stentoft, who researches the insourcing of technological production to Denmark, believes creating the ambassadorial post is a good idea. He explains:

We have much to offer these companies, but Denmark is a small country, and we obviously need to make ourselves noticed if we are to attract them to the country.

Marianne Dahl Steensen, CEO of Microsoft Denmark, also welcomed the creation of a digital ambassador position, but did acknowledge that the company ‘can hardly be equated with a nation’.

Should the UK introduce a digital ambassador?

By introducing a digital ambassador, Mr Samuelsen is taking a pragmatic approach to ensure Denmark is a key player in the international digital economy, as well as attempting to manage the impacts of an increasingly digital society.

Although appointing an ambassador for the technology sector poses philosophical and ethical questions, the UK should closely monitor how this new role develops and the potential benefits (and challenges) it brings for Denmark. In particular, if the new role is able to improve dialogue between technology companies and the security services on matters such as privacy, or help address the sector’s need for digitally skilled workers, then maybe introducing a digital ambassador is something worth exploring.


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Women in technology: London Tech Week

From 20-26th June London Tech week will once again be shining a spotlight on all things digital in the UK’s capital. An opportunity to showcase and network, the event will see some of the UK’s biggest tech firms gathering, along with smaller start-ups and keen individuals, to talk all things tech: from enterprise and engagement, to growth and innovation. This year one of the core themes is “talent and inclusion”, with the keynote seminar considering what now seems to many to have become the age old question: what will it take for business to truly take action on diversity within technology, and specifically how can businesses be encouraged to “shift the dial on the gender agenda”?

technology

There have been many studies, blogs, reports and comments about the reasons technology-based careers, or jobs within technology firms seem so inaccessible to women, and chances are many will form the basis of the London Tech Week event discussions.

In the UK today women make up fewer than 30% of the information and communications technologies (ICT) workforce, comprising around 20% of computer graduates and fewer than 10% of app developers. The Lords Select Committee, chaired by Baroness Sally Morgan, produced a report in early 2015: Make or Break: the UKs Digital Future 2015 which urged the UK government to seize the opportunity to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader by investing in and promoting careers and skill building to try to encourage more young women and girls to consider a career in the tech industry. They state that increasing the number of women working in IT could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year for the UK economy. But just how exactly can women be encouraged to pursue a career in technology? Is it all down to funding or the availability of jobs, or does there need to be a combined approach? The following sections highlight some of the opinions of women who work in the tech industries, and showcase some of the strategies of technology firms to try to diversify their workforce and attract women to a career in technology.

Creating and promoting positive, high profile female role models in the tech sector

As the various magazine polls and top 10 countdowns show, some of the best and brightest minds in the UK tech industry are women. And yet, some girls and young women still feel like the technology world is not open to them. More and more high profile role models may be a way to tackle this – and clearly some do exist – but their profile is limited and more could be done by the industry and the media to promote them in an appropriate way. Similarly, mentoring schemes, like those promoted by Girls In Tech UK, which engages women already in industry by mentoring future tech professionals, could also demonstrate practical ways in which girls can work in a technology based profession.

Emphasising the importance of a female approach to creative technology and technology based problem solving

Women, it is often said in psychology and sociology literature, approach problems in different ways, and will often take a different approach to finding solutions. Including a female perspective brings another set of experiences which can be used to address specific problems. Additionally, the problems women experience are different to those of men and as a result they may allow tech companies to tap into an entirely new market.

Increasing funding and industry promoted schemes specifically to support women entering the tech industry

Although it is recognised that there is still a long way to go, the scope and the space to develop skills within the sector is growing for women. There are many initiatives promoted by large multinationals to encourage more women either to train for a career in tech, or to join their workforce. Many of these employers will be present at tech week but schemes by Microsoft, Apple, Google and Samsung need to have their profiles raised even within the sector; they should also be used as blueprints for others, and act as examples for smaller and medium sized businesses to encourage more women into their workforce.

Marketing a career in tech as desirable

Learning providers should recognise the importance of maintaining relatively low barriers to entry and promoting upskilling and retraining. They should also seek to engage with employers to create easy transition pathways into employment; an almost certain guarantee of employment at the end of a period of training can be a great incentive. Similarly, many courses exist to promote learning and upskilling around the tech sector. These should be made more accessible to women and promoted more widely, as should the availability of grants and additional funding opportunities for women and girls who want to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Education and industry figures should do more to market the tech industry, emphasise the positives and make it an appealing career pathway. Some of the most rewarding aspects of working in the tech sector – problem solving, considering solutions and watching a product develop from start to finish – are not always highlighted as good reasons for joining. Many tech companies also come with a great working ethos. Employees can often work flexibly, or from home, enabling women to maintain a suitable work/life balance, while maintaining their position within the company.

Don’t underestimate the importance of stereotypes and misconceptions

The consistent rhetoric that the tech industry is a “man’s world” can be off-putting for some people; not everyone wants to be a trailblazer within a company. Women’s involvement should be normalised, but so should the language.Talking about women working in tech careers as being unusual can have an effect on the women and their male colleagues. Industry and education both need to be aware of the need to strike a balance between not sounding too complacent about the number of women pursuing careers in tech, and not making too big a deal about women joining the tech industry so as to single them out and place additional pressure on them.

Showing that there’s more to a career in tech than “nerds doing coding”

Careers services and advisers need to be aware that someone who has an interest in STEM (or specifically in technology based subjects) has more career options within the tech sector than “computer coder”. The tech industry is diverse, taking in areas such as social media, gaming, content creation, research and development, digital marketing and product design and development. Technology as an industry also generates products and solutions needed by diverse sectors for their day-to-day business, including health and social care, education, finance, and ICT,

DARPA_Big_DataObviously these are just a few reflections on the literature and some common perceptions of women in the industry. But it is clear that there is a key role for both industry and learning providers in driving the diversity agenda forward.


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