Unlocking the Value of Public Sector Data for Public Benefit: Blog #3

July 12, 2022 by No Comments | Category Data, Digital, Digital Scotland

Blog by Esperanza Miyake, Chancellor’s Fellow in Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Strathclyde, and Member of the Independent Expert Group for Unlocking the Value of Public Data.

In June 2022, the Independent Expert Group (IEG) came together for the fourth time, as part of our series of monthly meetings. As a collection of experts from different sectors, backgrounds and practices, the group is united in its aim to advise the Scottish Government on how personal dataset-holders in the Scottish public sector can make decisions about how these datasets might be used by the private sector. The group wishes to ensure that whenever this occurs, it has to be of public benefit to the people of Scotland, in ways that promote transparency and trust.

One of the main reasons the IEG was formed is for developing a set of high-level Principles and a framework of guidance to help data controllers in ethical decision-making. Using our Chair’s preliminary draft of the Principles as a starting point, the group discussed how best to present nuanced information on legal and ethical frameworks, social and cultural values, and differing definitions of key terms in a way that speaks clearly and concisely to all. This will no doubt be a challenge in the months to come, and suggested examples for reference included ADR UK’s work on ethical data use.

Resonating with the IEG’s purpose and shared vision, some of the emerging key themes and values from previous meetings – ‘public benefit’, ‘transparency’ and ‘engagement’ – were revisited; additional ones such as ‘risk/safety’ and ‘consent’ also took centre-stage. These informed the rest of the group’s discussion, starting with the suggestion to have a more transparent and collective process in developing these Principles; one that moved beyond the IEG and involved specific input from the Practitioner Forum (PF).

As such, the group considered the composition of the PF, and how best to engage with practitioners. The IEG recognised the difficulties around defining ‘practitioner’ – a homogenous and nebulous term – and concluded the PF should be broadened out to possibly include members of the private, public and third sector who have an interest in public data (this would therefore incorporate both data-holders and requesters of data). Organising a series of targeted focus groups (along with a webinar) was favoured as a meaningful, qualitative way to be in dialogue with different stakeholder groups within the PF.

The group also explored various different forms of outputs, each with their own interrelated purpose. For example, a Background Report – containing a review of relevant existing research, resources and practices – would provide contextual meaning to support the Principles.

Outputs are, of course, intrinsically tied to communication and engagement. The group thus further explored the possibilities offered by the Scottish Government’s existing media platforms (e.g. its YouTube channel). Perhaps because of my academic discipline, I would personally be keen for us to look into this more in the coming months; I presented some ideas on how non-text based outputs might enrich IEG’s existing communication, engagement and dissemination strategies: it would speak dynamically to the public, the stakeholders, the practitioners and ourselves. Together with our existing IEG blogs (e.g. Blog#1 and Blog#2), such a multimedia approach could make IEG and its activities even more visible, transparent and accessible, whilst providing a fuller narrative and legacy of processes that shaped the various stages of programme as a whole.

We will be engaging and consulting with practitioners in the field via a practitioner forum (PF). A draft of the principles will be released later in the summer/year to engage more widely on. We are working on them at the moment.

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