One year on from the launch of the Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics, Simon Whitworth, Head of Data Ethics and Research Accreditation, writes about the centre’s achievements and future goals.

“The 25th of February marks the first anniversary of the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics (CADE). The time has flown by, and it doesn’t seem a year ago that we set off on the Centre’s journey with a spring in our step and a dream of becoming “recognised world-leaders in the practical application of data ethics for statistics and research”, helping to ensure the use of data for research and statistics is for the public good. I am proud of our achievements so far and would like to share some highlights from our first year.

We have helped empower analysts to consider the ethics of their research at pace.

The Authority’s ethics self-assessment tool and accompanying user guidance and training has been used to consider the ethics of 258 research projects from across the government, academia and the commercial sector.

We have supported a wide variety of projects, and those projects that are considered to have a high ethical risk are considered by independent experts on the National Statistician’s Data Ethics Advisory Committee (NSDEC), chaired by Dame Moira Gibb. NSDEC has provided valuable independent ethics advice on a range of projects from across the statistical system.

In response to user demand, the Centre has produced practical user guidance on a range of applied data ethics topics.

To produce these guidance documents, we have consulted with experts across the statistical system, and I would like to thank those we have worked with us for their valuable input.

The Centre has been a visible thought leader in the data ethics space within the UK.

Over the summer, we organised a roundtable event attended by senior level key stakeholders from across Government and the wider analytical community on how we can best address emerging ethical challenges in the use of data for research and statistics. The outcomes from this have shaped our work programme.

To ensure our work is visible and has impact, we have participated in 24 events, workshops, and training sessions over the course of the last year. Highlights include: a Government Social Research/Government Economic Service event on the Centre’s activities which had 107 attendees, ethics training session to analysts at a variety of government departments and presentations on the Centre’s work at conferences such as Data for Policy 2021 and DataConnect 21.

The Centre has played a leading role in the UK’s contribution to the data ethics agenda on the international stage.

The main focus of our international work has been on leading a workstream dedicated to exploring data ethics in the use of Machine Learning to produce official statistics as part of an UNECE programme of work on Machine Learning. As part of this work, we published new ethics guidance focused on the use of machine learning for research and official statistics.

We have also recently organised and chaired a successful data ethics session at the recent UNECE conference on modernising statistical legislation and have delivered data ethics training at UNECE and UNESCAP events to statisticians working in National Statistical Organisations (NSOs) across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the course of the next year, we want to build on this excellent start.

This will involve improving the ethics self-assessment tool in response to the results of a user feedback survey which provided useful suggestions about how to make the tool more user friendly, easy to navigate and able to offer maximum value to researchers.

We will also engage further with the analytical community to better understand the impact of the guidance that we have published and identify future research that would be of significant value to the user community. This will enable us to continue to publish authoritative and respected new guidance on cross-cutting and innovative ethical issues in research and statistics, which researchers can use and apply in their research. To produce this guidance, we will work in an inclusive way with stakeholders and other sources of expertise, domestically and internationally.

There is a growing interest in data ethics internationally and our innovative work in this area means that we are well placed to play a leading role in this. This will involve contributing to initiatives such as the UNECE ethical task team and working with partners from across the globe to support the ethical use of data for analysis.

We do all this work to help empower analysts to exploit the research potential of a much wider and richer range of data sources more fully in safe and ethically appropriate ways for the public good. Fast paced innovative analysis must be ethically appropriate and we look forward to working with stakeholders during the next year to play our role in moving this further forward at pace.