To celebrate Global Ethics Day, Simon Whitworth, Head of Data Ethics and Research Accreditation at the Authority, writes about the recent work that the Centre for Applied Data Ethics has done internationally.

I have the pleasure of leading the work of the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics. For the last couple of years, we have focused our efforts on developing and delivering tools, guidance, training and support to help the statistical community to efficiently consider data ethics. This has played a major role in helping the statistical community to collect and use data in innovative ways that are publicly acceptable and for the public good. You can read about the significant impacts of this work here.

Over the last year there has been a growing international interest in the evolving topic of data ethics as more international organisations are recognising the importance of collecting and using data in ethically appropriate ways. This has presented us with several fantastic opportunities to work internationally.  With colleagues from Statistics Canada, we have recently led a review into the data ethics practices in National Statistical Organisations (NSO). This report made recommendations to the Conference of European Statisticians and NSOs about how to improve data ethics standards internationally and improve collaboration between NSOs to help the international statistical community to speak about data ethics with a more united voice.

We are also involved in ONS’s work to support statistical modernisation in countries in the developing world. We are currently speaking to several of ONS’s international partners about work programmes to inform data ethics thinking and practices in partner countries. This will include not just supporting thinking on how to define data ethics in different contexts but also how to embed data ethics policies within NSOs, so they are used across partner NSOs and have impact. After all, there is no point in having data ethics policies if they are not going to be used and to be used in a way which adds value, they need to be easy to use, efficient and robust.

As well as all of this we have also been busy communicating our data ethics work to international audiences at international conferences and providing training courses on data ethics for international organisations such as United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. This allows us to get valuable feedback on our services and guidance which we use to further improve these areas of our work.

So why are we doing all of this? Well, the UK Statistics Authority strategy has set us the challenge of becoming world leaders in applied data ethics, so this work makes a significant contribution to helping us fulfil that ambition. Secondly, as prominent data collectors, producers and users, it is important that NSOs have a voice in shaping the future direction of data ethics across the world. Greater international collaboration on this topic can help NSOs to more effectively achieve this. We want to play a leading role in making this happen.

As we progress with this exciting programme of work, we will report on our progress in our regular Centre for Applied Data Ethics newsletters. We will also look to increase our international impact and will remain open to working on international data ethics initiatives. If you are active in this space and you think we could usefully contribute to your initiative it would be great to hear from you, so please do get in touch.