Online engagement event: discussing principles for enabling data’s value
Blog by Lucille Brown, Policy Support Officer, Unlocking the Value of Public Sector Personal Data (UVOD) programme.
As summer passed by for another year, the first day of September 2022 was a good moment to raise awareness about work underway to unlock the value of Scotland’s public sector personal data, for public benefit.
The Scottish Government’s Unlocking the Value of Public Sector Personal Data (UVOD) programme had commenced in spring 2022, under the direction of an Independent Expert Group (IEG).
We hosted the ‘Unlocking Value of Public Sector Personal Data: Guiding Principles Design’ webinar on 1 September, to get feedback from the public and data practitioners on draft high-level principles for the programme. This would be the first of several opportunities for practitioners, and the wider public, to participate in a citizen-led, collaborative process.
Joining the session were attendees from across Scotland – such as Belmont, Forfar, Lenzie, Motherwell, Perth, and the major Scottish cities. From slightly further afield, delegates joined from all over England and from Northern Ireland. The interest in what Scotland is exploring in this new programme did not stop at the UK borders, however, with people dialling in from Zambia, India, Italy, Norway, Brazil, Switzerland, India, Israel, Singapore, Denmark and the USA.
The webinar started with lightning talks from four of the ten members of the IEG. Summaries of their short talks – they were allocated only 3 minutes each – are outlined below:
Colin Birchenall – Chief Digital Officer, Glasgow City Council and Chief Technology Officer, Digital Office for Scottish Local Government – explained how unlocking the value of public data was critical in Scotland’s response to COVID19. A more holistic approach to data sharing enabled people to be kept informed, and for all parts of the public sector to work in partnership to provide targeted and responsive interventions to the challenges of the pandemic.
The public good in this case was crystal clear. It was to keep people and communities informed and safe. Although a public sector scenario, and a unique situation, it has provided greater confidence and a commitment to unlocking the value of data for public good, and to do this on a strategic basis across all sectors requires us to set common ground rules to ensure that privacy, ethics, equality, rights and trust are maintained at all times.
Charlie Mayor – West of Scotland Safe Haven Manager, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – presented insights relating to how secure analytical environments and robust de-identification methods can be used to give researchers privacy -respecting access to public datasets. Rather than data leaving the stewardship of public data controllers, data science and analysis can happen under supervision in controlled virtual ‘workspaces’. Here, public data can be put to ethical, GDPR-compliant usage, and public benefit realised in partnership with academic, commercial and third sector parties.
Annie Sorbie – Senior Lecturer in Law (Health, Medical Law and Ethics), Director Edinburgh Foundation for Women in Law, University of Edinburgh – offered her thoughts on how we might approach concepts such as the public interest and public benefit in relation to uses of data. In particular, she suggested that we should pay attention to the way that individual and collective interests engaged in data use and non–use may interrelate, how they may change over time, and what the implications of this are for how we regulate at all stages of the data use lifecycle.
Carol Young – Deputy Director of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights – reminded attendees that robust use of equality data is vital to ensure that the results of data use tackle, rather than entrench, inequalities. For the ‘public benefit’ to apply to everyone, the data shared with the private sector needs to be disaggregated by equality characteristics, with safeguards to ensure that it will be used appropriately.
The 1.5 hour online meeting was a lively session, hosted by Carol Sinclair, Strategic Data Advisor for the Scottish Government and Independent Chair of the Health and Social Care Data Board. Carol facilitated the discussion skilfully, enabling people’s views to be heard, highlighting key themes and inviting further reflection on them. It was fantastic to hear a wide range of views from so many attendees who either ‘took the floor’ or commented via the chat function.
A key take-away was that the terminology we use in scoping this work needs to be as clearly defined as possible. Whilst recognising the complexities of the subject matter, participants agreed that a set of clear definitions (for instance ‘public benefit’ and ‘public interest’) was foundational to building consistently good data practice across different sectors that could bring social, economic and environmental benefits to Scotland. Accordingly, the IEG subsequently agreed to produce an FAQ document at their most recent, post-webinar, meeting on 28 September.
The IEG Chair, Angela Daly – Professor of Law and Technology at the University of Dundee – and group members are grateful for these high-quality contributions which will inform their thinking over the coming months. We are planning further engagement activity over the coming months, with focus group sessions in development for December and January.