Science and Technology Studies


STS offers degrees at each university level: undergraduate, masters, and PhD

Dr Cian O'Donovan

Dr Cian O'Donovan

Researcher UKRI Ethics Accelerator grant

Dept of Science & Technology Studies

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
21st Aug 2018

Research summary

I'm a Senior Research Fellow at UCL's Department of Science and Technology Studies. I research the impacts of digital transformation on social care and use social care to study who benefits from forms of innovation and change like digital transformation more broadly; who pays for innovation; and who decides. I am the principal investigator leading Empowering Future Care Workforces: Scoping Capabilities to Leverage Assistive Robotics through Co-Design funded by the UKRI Trustworthy and Autonomous Systems Hub. In this work and elsewhere I investigate:

  • Data policy that is needed to support post-pandemic digital transformations in care.
  • Empowerment: the kind of capabilities health and social care professionals working need so they can use technology like AI, robotics and autonomous systems on their own terms, in ways that increase their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of people they care for.
  • Public research infrastructures: the kind of knowledge, networks, ideas and capacity that is needed to co-create and evaluate innovation across the hugely diverse social and material settings care takes place in - from care homes, to sheltered housing to everyday domestic situations.

I also do my best to ensure this research contributes to public engagement and movement building that can challenge powerful interests in order to achieve a more sustainable and fairer world. In 2014 I co-founded Uplift, Ireland's largest people-powered organisation for change, where I advise on strategy and governance.

Teaching summary

I regularly supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations. If you have an idea for a project that fits with any of the topics on this page please get in touch, I'd love to hear about it.

Research project information:

Personal information:


University of Sussex
Doctorate, PhD. Science and Technology Policy Studies | 2016
Royal Holloway, University of London
Other higher degree, MSc. Sustainability and Management | 2010
Trinity College Dublin
First Degree, BA (Mod) Information and Communication Technology | 2001


I research critical issues in social care innovation, such as:

Empowering carers by cultivating human-digital capabilities

Staff and unpaid carers are empowered by technology when they can use it on their own terms. My research contributes to state-of-the-art social science that aims to map and understand the kind of human-digital capabilities people working with data, AI and robotics need in order to use technology to increase their own well-being and the well-being of people around them. This approach is important because it lets researchers systematically evaluate (i) innovation processes like design, (ii) a diversity of care practices, and then (iii) connect these processes and practices to specific values in the real-world contexts care takes place in.

Data policy and data ethics

Research with colleagues at the UKRI UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator is contributing to important post-pandemic debates about data-use in social care (see this BMJ piece). Our main point: before deploying advanced technologies and data-integrations, social care decision-makers need to get the basics right. For instance making older people and those that pay for their own care visible in data.

Together we have contributed to parliamentary scrutiny reports, government calls for evidence on social care data strategy, and published peer-reviewed research that shows how maintaining the trustworthiness of public data systems is vital. Investigating how millions of people opted-out of sharing personal health data during the pandemic, we argue that post-pandemic public health and social care needs to better engage the public about how data is used and valued.

Public research infrastructres

As part of SCALINGS, the largest ever study of co-creation innovation in robotics, I developed ways of evaluating interdisciplinary robotics research using techniques like bibliometrics and situational analysis to map how power and politics influence the knowledge, social networks and capabilities required to do robotics in application domains like care. This work is critical to funders planing and evaluating interdisciplinary research and for assessing training needs of technologists working outside the lab, in areas like social care.

Long-term commitments to public impact

I also combine research with advocacy. In 2014 I co-founded Uplift, Ireland's largest people-powered organisation for change. I have written about how Uplift have have pioneered new forms of digital advocacy in order to hold powerful firms and political interests to account in real life. I have also worked with 38 Degrees, the UK's leading digital advocacy organisation.