Next Generation Internet: a resilient approach to mitigate COVID-19 impact and foster innovation

We are all trying to adapt to the diverse lifestyles imposed by the current pandemic. While governments are managing in constant emergency and looking to prevent future impacts, citizens around the world look at connecting to each other – mostly from home, by respecting the measures set by the authorities. Moreover, governments, citizens and private sector have high expectations that this pandemic would bring something positive.

One clear effect of the pandemic has been a major shift to the use of the internet for multiple purposes, such as business development, fostering education, making bureaucracy agile, etc. However, governments and other stakeholders were not technologically prepared. Consequently, prioritising the digital strategy should become a way to address the impact of this pandemic and contribute to maintain and improve a functioning level of this society, such as healthcare systems, education, businesses and jobs, and stability of financial markets.

Here is when we start talking about resilience as a required policy approach to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, reducing the already evident inequalities and contributing towards building the inclusive societies. Resilience does not denote only the ability to recover from a setback, but it also means to be sustainable and collaborative. Resilience is strongest when developed including diverse stakeholders, such as governments, society, business and third sector, in discussing the future of the internet.

At the European level, the European Commission is financing a 10-year initiative through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, that looks at addressing key digital challenges and developing the internet of tomorrow centered in humans. The Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative put itself to the front in the field of innovation, by responding to people’s fundamental needs, including trust, security and inclusion.

This initiative tackles current challenges related to the increased use of the internet (for instance, by developing and promoting open-source tools, well suited to our current situation of remote working and interactions), and it is also safeguarding the needs of the future generations. The fact this project is happening during a crisis contributes to strengthen resilience, as it supports to restore a level of societal functioning and improves the existing technologies. More importantly, this is happening in a resilient-collaborative way, as it brings together multiple stakeholders to solve crucial challenges for the present and future of Europe.

Particularly, NGI Trust project, coordinated by EFIS, supports the development of a human-centric Internet by developing a stronger European ecosystem of researchers, innovators and technology developers in the field of privacy and trust enhancing technologies. With a collaborative approach, this project fosters innovation and contributes to enhance internet governance, being itself a key instrument for policy makers in the way out of this pandemic. The results of the 57 funded projects within NGI Trust will contribute to tackle issues such as personal data management, identity, users control, stronger tool, data ethics, etc.

The innovative process scattered from this initiative does not mean to be exclusively economic but will strongly support the development of citizen involvement in decision-making, associated with the use and exploitation of internet. This is particularly relevant as the need to maintain society functioning nowadays means that citizens are involved in the use of internet for business, education, health and many other areas, especially during the pandemic. Indeed, NGI initiative encourages citizens to be fully in charge of how they use the internet, the data they share, the way they collaborate and how they contribute (via the internet) to solve societal, environmental and economic issues.

An additional innovation this project proposes is its implementation during a worldwide crisis and the opportunity it brings to improving the ways Europe consolidates the digital strategy for the future. The interactions between stakeholders bring insights from what is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this affects the use of the internet. Therefore, the solutions are already considering strategies to mitigate the impact now and prepare for what may come.

Written by Matias Barberis, researcher at EFIS Centre