Living Digital Transformation


Digital transformation is a buzz term increasingly used by businesses, corporations and governments alike, particularly as the world grapples with post-pandemic life.

The Centre for AI and Data Governance (CAIDG) has developed its working concept Living Digital Transformation, which emphasises that digital transformation must be human-centric for its sustainability and progressive impact. As data increases exponentially in a digital world, more individuals will demand digital self-determination.[1] Citizen inclusion is imperative for their trust in the transition.[2][3]

Therefore, the objective of any digital initiative should not fixate on the digital technology, but rather focus on transformation that supports human wellbeing and flourishing.

What is ‘Living Digital Transformation’ (LDT)?

We have added the word living to underscore that digital transformation must improve life-experience, raise the quality and comfort of work-life and ensure safe digital life-spaces. In this frame, humans lead the transformation, and this transformation is strongly local, grounded in the community. [4]

Given our Centre’s location in Singapore Management University (SMU), we find it intuitive to explore LDT using the university as a use case. In this way, we also recognise the potential of city universities for social innovation.

How can LDT be built better from the expediencies of pandemic university life? Digitisation of the University[5]

The rate at which universities have shifted online has outpaced regulation and governance efforts. CAIDG is carefully considering the consequences and ramifications of digital transformation in terms of personal data integrity, digital self-determination, and keeping ‘humans in the loop’. From the downside, digital transformation has consequent ethical implications of depersonalisation, distrust, and disenfranchising.

In the university context, LDT looks beyond mass technological substitution but instead focuses on: [6]

· extension (where existing university community practice is enriched with new modal affordances such as enhancing learning experience through more flexible digital tooling, driven by student preference) and/or

· breakthrough (where such practices undergo a radical change).

Distinguishing styles of transformation in this way helps to clarify that such digital tools are not used to create (and completely replace) our physical community and all the organic interactions that arise from lived community spaces (digital or otherwise). Rather, digital spaces offer new terrain that is complementary with human interaction, and offers the space for the development of digital culture.

When we discuss the need for “digital culture” in higher education, we’re not referring to shiny new toys, proctored exams or a life lived on Zoom. Instead, it’s about embedding a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, agility and openness both in and between our educational institutions so that innovation can flourish in all its forms.[7]

Features of our working vision of LDT include:

  • LDT driven by our digital natives (driven from the ground up by the entire university ecosystem, fostering a culture and community of responsible innovators)
  • Creating safe digital space to learn and grow (providing room for learning and growth, as well as seek to be engaging and open, ensuring no one is excluded)
  • Taming technology within the community (putting humans in the forefront and in control, implementing responsible AI ethical norms and remedies)
  • Enhancing responsible data access through digital self-determination (prioritising the protection of data subjects and ensuring their agency and autonomy)
  • Preparing for transiting work futures (equipping learners with digital know-how and skillsets, providing sensitive and suitable pathways for change)
  • Aligning university service provision and the communities served (drawing from CAIDG Ethics Hub to facilitate ethical digital transformation)

[1] Nydia Remolina and Mark Findlay, ‘The Paths to Digital Self-Determination — A Foundational Theoretical Framework’ (Social Science Research Network 2021) SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3831726 <> accessed 29 June 2021.

[2] Alicia Wee and Mark Findlay, ‘AI and Data Use: Surveillance Technology and Community Disquiet in the Age of COVID-19’ (Social Science Research Network 2020) SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3715993 <> accessed 16 April 2021.

[3] ‘SMU’s Centre for AI and Data Governance Launches New Research, Policy and Community Outreach Initiative to Improve Human-AI Exchanges’ (SMU Newsroom, 17 June 2021) <> accessed 5 August 2021.

[4] ‘SMU’s Centre for AI and Data Governance Launches New Research, Policy and Community Outreach Initiative to Improve Human-AI Exchanges’ (SMU Newsroom, 17 June 2021) <> accessed 5 August 2021.

[5] ‘Digitisation of the University’

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid



SMU Centre for AI & Data Governance

CAIDG conducts independent research on policy, regulatory, governance, ethics, and other issues relating to AI and data use.