Working in techUK’s policy team is surely the ideal role for Ben Bradley. With a lifelong interest in how the world operates and the structures we put in place for society – not to mention an enthusiasm for technology coupled with a firm a belief in its benefits – being at this ‘cutting edge’ of policy creation brings great fulfilment.
As a trade association that represents a broad-ranging portfolio of UK-based tech companies, from SMEs to the largest names including Google, techUK’s approach to policy is underpinned by an awareness of the diverse needs of its members. Ben is, effectively, giving these companies a voice at the table when policy is being discussed with the likes of the Home Office and DCMS. This is particularly crucial when much focus today is placed on the big tech companies and their activities. “Two thirds of our members are SMEs,” he explains, “and the policies being discussed must work for all, regardless of their size or their operating models.”
That is just one of the many challenges of trying to set structures and establish models for a dynamic, fast-moving and complex space. “When it comes to technology, it’s important to keep up, to make sure we understand what is going on and are designing a system that works for tomorrow, not yesterday,” he says. “We also need to be certain that we’re tailoring policies to target an issue and not responding to a symptom of something else. You can’t create technology solutions to societal issues – it has to be part of a holistic approach.”
Ben cites online harms, a current major priority in the policy space, as an example: “We need to look at the whole picture with that in mind. We need to remove harmful content and have rules in place, but we also need to teach resilience to help people cope with the risks, as well as instilling good behaviours and practices.”
The social impact of technology is experienced by almost all of us. In recent months, the pandemic has transformed our relationship to things like the internet, which has become a critical lifeline and added urgency to the momentum towards nationwide connectivity and digital access. Importantly, Ben believes it can also serve to mitigate the damage to the UK economy from Covid-19 and help fuel a recovery, a topic that will be discussed at the upcoming UK Internet Governance Forum (UKIGF). This event, organised by Nominet, is one that techUK has been a key part of for many years, with Ben now sitting on the UKIGF committee.
“The discussions that take place at the IGF are some of the most important we have at techUK because it’s a unique opportunity to get multiple stakeholders in the same room. You get people and organisations from all around, sharing common ideas, challenges and solutions, which is so useful,” he explains. “The fact that this is the national event ahead of the UN’s global version makes it even more critical for us. We must make sure our members have a voice in the debates that could be impacting international governance or feeding into policy decisions.”
Being right at the heart of future-shaping policy discussions is surely a thrill for an individual who has been passionate about the “structures and systems” of our nation since he was at school. “I’ve always been fascinated by politics and wanted to learn more about the world we live in, how it all works and operates – and be a part of shaping it.” A degree in Politics led to a role in Parliamentary Affairs and work with a strategic consultancy, gaining experience in public affairs and policy across the digital economy, telecoms and financial sectors.
Ben joined techUK in May 2018, becoming fully immersed in an area that he has long recognised the importance and power of technology. “I grew up in a small village in the North East, so I saw first-hand the importance of connectivity – it was literally a lifeline,” he explains. He observed technology evolve from being primarily for business – his dad’s work computer was Ben’s first experience of tech – to the consumer-focused realm of today. “The opportunities and benefits have just grown alongside that evolution. It’s quite remarkable.”
Inevitably for one shouldering responsibility and at the forefront of urgent issues, Ben finds it hard to switch off. “Working from home makes it even harder as your work space is your living space. Turning off the laptop isn’t really enough some days,” he admits. That said, his work brings him great satisfaction, representing the needs of UK tech businesses as the systems and regulations that will underpin out digital future are being shaped.
Find out more about UKIGF 2020 on the Nominet blog.