Protecting Minority Ethnic Communities Online (PRIME)


The PRIME project will broaden understanding of online harm and how it can be mitigated through new systems, tools and processes by focusing on Minority Ethnic (ME) communities' experiences of digitalised services, particularly in the areas of housing, health and energy.


The Open University (OU) is a partner in a consortium led by Heriot-Watt University that has launched a world-leading study to determine the impact of digitalised services on minority ethnic (ME) groups across the UK. The multi-disciplinary research team will use their expertise in social science, applied linguistics, cyber security and privacy, data mining, machine learning, human computer interaction and educational technology. to investigate online harms and mitigate their negative impacts on minority ethnic communities as key public services in health, energy and housing move online.

The £3.3 million project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Strategic Priority Fund as part of the Protecting Citizens Online programme, initiated in response to the 2020 Online Harms White Paper. The project is administered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council (EPSRC) on behalf of UKRI.

The Protecting Minority Ethnic Communities Online (PRIME) project will identify the distinctive online harms that ME communities experience because of the digitalisation of key services and draw upon a range of academic expertise to develop innovative and ground-breaking policy guidance and tools for tackling deeply entrenched and persistent racial inequalities in the UK.

With a lack of research, policy and practical initiatives in this area and no solid evidence base to draw upon, the experience of ME communities when using online services requires significant investigation. Assessing the adequacy of existing harm-mitigation structures is also difficult. However, there is wide concern that digitalisation could lead to inequalities being reproduced or exacerbated online, or to new discriminatory processes being created.  It is also known that ME communities and individuals are disproportionately impacted by harms like cyberbullying (see the report published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, (2019), titled: ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment: The Prevalence and Impact of Online Trolling’). The PRIME project will enable providers to demonstrate accountability and transparency in service delivery.

The PRIME consortium which includes researchers from Heriot-Watt University, the Open University and the Universities of Cranfield, Glasgow and York, will also work closely with the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (REPHRAIN).

The team will establish a Citizen-led Race Equity Living Lab (CREL), playing a critical role in countering discriminatory processes in digitalised services, enabling organisations to address ethnic inequalities in service provision and ensure more equitable service outcomes.

The role of IET

Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme and Dr Elizabeth FitzGerald from the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology are leading the project’s impact and dissemination work which begins with community engagement.

Agnes said: “We are engaging with a wide range of organisations and communities to ensure that the project reaches relevant ME groups, that these groups are supported in contributing to the research and that they benefit from it. We wish to understand more deeply the nature of online harms experienced by the UK’s increasingly diverse citizens, and to play a role in improving lives by developing tools and policies that will make access to key services more equitable and safe for all.”

In addition, Dr Sara Bailey is working on the project as a Research Associate.

Research programmes


  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)


  • BRAP
  • CaCHE
  • CEMVO Scotland
  • Cranfield University
  • COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership
  • Energy Systems Catapult
  • Government of Scotland
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Muslim Council of Britain
  • NHS Race & Health Observatory
  • Public Health Scotland
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Association
  • University of Glasgow
  • York University