It has now been six weeks since we launched the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics and the Centre team have been busy developing their various plans and outputs ever since. Here’s a summary of the main things that we have been up to during this time and where we hope to go next.

Initial launch

We launched our Centre on 18th February, accompanied by the Centre strategy, with a forward by the National Statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond, and an accompanying blog by Dame Moira Gibb discussing the importance of applying data ethics in a changing world.

We also began initial engagement with our internal user community, undertaking an internal event introducing the Centre to colleagues in the Office for National Statistics and presenting a lightning talk at the Data Ethics and Society Reading Group.  We are actively seeking opportunities to talk more widely about the work of the Centre. Please get in touch if you and/your organisation would like to hear about the work of the Centre.

Release of landscape review

On 17th March, we released an open draft of our initial landscape review of the applied data ethics space in the UK and accompanying blog, considering the applied ethics guidance and activities of other organisations and positioning the activities of the Centre within that. We welcome comments and feedback on this review, ideally by 16th April.

Formation of Centre Advisory Committee

We have just established the independent Advisory Committee for our Centre, who will advise the UK Statistics Authority on the strategic direction, priorities, outputs and impact of the Centre. The Committee is chaired by Professor David Hand and consists of members from Government, academia and industry. The first meeting will be held towards the end of April, when further details on the committee membership, terms of reference, and the minutes of the first meeting will be made available on the website.

Developing our ethics self-assessment tool

We are undertaking a user review of our current ethics self-assessment tool to ensure that it continues to be useful and applicable to the research and statistical user community. There is still time to contribute your views to this review. Your feedback will inform the future development of the tool so please do have your say.

The ethics self-assessment tool has been used to assess the ethics of 56 projects so far this year, topics have ranged from employment and the labour market, and population and social insights, to COVID-19, health, social care and wellbeing, and crime and justice. We aim to provide feedback on completed self-assessments within three working days.

Ethical use of machine learning for research and statistics

We have kicked off leadership of an international workstream exploring the ethical use of machine learning for research and statistics as part of the ONS-UNECE Machine Learning group, where we are working with international collaborators to develop ethical principles and tools to facilitate the ethical use of machine learning tools in the research and statistical context.

What’s coming next?

We are hoping to continue building on these activities and outputs over the coming weeks, but will be particularly focusing on:

  • We have launched a survey exploring the data ethics activities of other National Statistical Institutes, which will form the initial basis of the Centre’s international work.
  • We are currently developing a first draft of our practical guidance on considering, and most importantly addressing, ethical issues in the use of geospatial data for research and statistics. We thank those who have engaged with us so far on this topic!
  • We are planning an initial roundtable to explore how the biggest emerging ethical issues in the use of data for research and statistics can best be addressed, alongside other stakeholder engagement activities – watch this space for further updates!

As always, please do get in touch if you are interested in collaborating with us or want to suggest an ethics guidance topic that you feel we should focus on!