Conceptual and Methodological Framework for a Digital Identity and Life-Course Study

David Buil-Gil, Yongyu Zeng, Yang Lu, Maria Limniou, Robin Renwick

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The Digital Identity and Life-Course Study (DIALCS) project seeks to set the conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations for a longitudinal life-course study focused on perceptions of, attitudes to, and behaviours with digital identity technology. This longitudinal study will repeatedly record data from a cohort of participants over a period of time to detect changes in the way they perceive and engage with digital identity technologies. No research has previously examined the adoption and engagement with digital identity technologies over the life-course. Generating such data would be essential not only to better understand citizens’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviours towards digital identity, and how these change over time, but also to analyse the impact of emerging and future digital identity technologies in the way people perceive, feel and develop their ‘self’ identity in digital settings.

The research design of this project is structured in three stages. First, we undertook a rapid evidence assessment of studies on digital identity over the life-course. This was done to identify common themes in the literature, and most importantly, to highlight important gaps in research, which our study will aim to address. Second, we completed a conceptual mapping exercise aimed at linking the most common key terms in psycho-social theories of ‘self’ and digital identity IT frameworks. This second stage allowed us to identify key constructs that form the core of digital identity, both in psycho-social and technology frameworks. Finally, we ran a series of consultation meetings with domain experts in digital identity and longitudinal research methods. This was done to reach expert consensus on the conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations for a longitudinal cohort study of digital identity over the life-course. After completing all of these, the following top-level recommendations were reached:

● The study should, where possible, enable descriptive analysis of key terms included in digital identity IT frameworks, government policies, and psycho-social theories of ‘self’.
● The study should follow a longitudinal life-course research design.
● The sample size should be large enough to enable population-level estimates and anticipate common attrition issues. Participants will be recruited at the age of 10.
● The sampling approach should follow a stratified random sampling.
● The study should use a combination of computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI), and face-to-face interviewing.
● The questionnaire should have two parts: ‘general screening form’ and ‘digital identity form(s)’.
● The study should include measures of use of digital devices, digital access to various platforms, perceptions about digital identity technologies, digital literacy, parental control, experiences with digital technologies, and detailed follow-up questions about the various observed ‘digital identities’ of respondents.

The impact of the DIALCS will be substantial for scholarly understanding of digital identity, as well as for industry and policy. From an academic perspective, recording longitudinal data on perceptions, attitudes and behaviours with digital identity, both quantitative and qualitative, will enable researchers to address vital questions such as “what drives digital ‘self’ identity over the life-course?”, “how do people construct their ‘self’ identity in cyberspace?”, “what drives people’s decisions to engage with certain digital identity technologies but not others?”, “what are people’s perceptions of security and privacy with respect to digital identity technologies (and how these affect the construction of digital identity)?”, and “what indicators represent use and experience of digital identity (e.g., interactions per pseudonym, pseudonym time-lived, etc.)?”
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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