Exploratory approach for a social impact assessment of digital well-being amongst the adult population in European countries

Project lead: María del Mar Grandio (University of Murcia)

Participating universities: University of Birmingham, University of Florence, University of Murcia

General Overview

This project explores the impact of digital technology at the individual, workplace and societal level in three European countries (Spain, UK, Italy). The aim is to look for the fundamentals of what we call digital well-being. In line with previous studies on digital well-being as a multilevel concept (Vanden, 2021), the project will highlight how to measure, from an empirical perspective, this complex phenomenon based on some specific indicators that can help us to better understand how people experience the risk and opportunities of digital media. The study focuses on the active adult population (18-65) since this sample offers the chance to measure the three wellbeing levels: personal and family, workplace and civic.

Purpose and Significance

The effect of social media use on well-being is one of the hottest debates in academia and society at large, and research into its impact on well-being has accumulated rapidly (see for example Wheatley and Buglass, 2019). Discussions on well-being and the impact of digital technology began a decade ago, primarily focused on how to avoid the negative effects of technology on human behaviour and negative psychological outcomes. Scholars underline now how digital tools can also enhance various aspects of individual and social life (Livingstone and Bluss-Ross, 2020).

Understood as an umbrella term, digital well-being is an emerging concept that refers to how people experience the risk and opportunities of digital media on an individual and social level. Some scholars have explained the concept as the, “subjective individual experience of optimal balance between the benefits and drawbacks obtained from mobile connectivity. This experiential state consists of affective and cognitive appraisals of the integration of digital connectivity into ordinary life” (Vanden, 2021, p. 938). Other scholars explain digital wellbeing as, “crafting and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology that can be used in a balanced and civic way” (Yue et al., 2021, p. 4).

Besides its growing relevance in society and academia, reported associations of digital media use and well-being are inconclusive (Valkenburg et al., 2022). Meta-perspectives on digital media use and well-being highlight that social media use does not have an unambiguously good or bad impact on well-being, but rather that associations are complex (Wheatley and Buglass, 2019).

Implementation Method and Timeline

The research design comprises a structured online survey to be administered in each country (N=800), complemented by focus groups to validate the survey. The proposed timeline for the project is as follows:

  • June 2023: Literature review; adaptation and translation of scales and measures
  • July 2023: Design of focus group materials
  • September 2023: First online workshop to set up the focus group sessions
  • October 2023: Second online workshop for the survey design
  • November 2023: Implementation of focus groups
  • December: First in-person meeting in Birmingham to present partial results and obtain feedback from experts on the focus group findings, in order to improve the digital wellbeing survey design.
  • January 2024: Data Plan, University of Murcia
  • February/March 2024: Survey data collection
  • April 2024: Online workshop to discuss preliminary results and final report
  • April 2024: Second in-person meeting in Florence for the public presentation of the final report to stakeholders. This meeting will serve to share the main results among key sectors of society and to increase the project's social visibility.
  • May 2024: Second intercultural focus group
  • June 2024: Writing the report and conclusions
  • September 2024: Launch event for the measurement tool, including presentation of the final project report

Expected Outcomes

The project aims to identify the positive and negative impacts of engaging with digital activities, and to explore ways to manage and control factors that contribute to a digital well-being. Specifically, the project will contribute to the measurement, from an empirical perspective, of this complex phenomenon based on the development and assessment of specific indicators that can help us to better understand how people experience the risk and opportunities of digital media.

Overall, the project will contribute to the growing understanding of the complexity of digital well-being as a multidisciplinary phenomenon and will provide a platform to assess its social impact in society with implications for academics, practitioners and other stakeholders.