The UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics was established last month with the remit of providing support and guidance to the research and statistical community, building on the existing work of the UKSA’s Data Ethics team to enable ethical issues in projects to be robustly considered and addressed. Emma Walker, lead for the new centre, considers how it fits within the broader data ethics landscape.

In the UK alone there are a large range of organisations and societies with an interest in data ethics – understanding how we can ethically use data to address current challenges in society. This landscape continues to grow and evolve as emerging methods, data sources and technologies require an increasing focus on the potential ethical issues that may accompany them. Developments in technology, data, and associated guidance on their use, can move at pace, making it difficult to always stay up to date with the latest thinking.

A key aspect of the UKSA’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics involves understanding how we can best contribute to this broader environment. How we can help our user community to navigate the sometimes-complex data ethics landscape and ensure that we provide a unique data ethics support service that meets the needs of researchers and statisticians, both now and in the future.

This month we have published our first landscape review paper. This is an open draft, which we are releasing for comment and feedback, that explores the current data ethics landscape in the UK, with an emphasis on identifying what practical advice, guidance and support is currently openly available to those that may need it. It is not intended as an exhaustive list, but a means to help us to position the Centre and its activities within the broader data ethics environment and identify potential collaborators for our future work.

This brief review allowed us to both understand what guidance currently exists, and what may be missing. Identifying the current state of the landscape, as well as the potential gaps that the work of the Centre can help to fill in this space. Whilst the focus of this review was UK wide, we recognise that there is a substantial amount of work happening in this space at an international level too and we will be undertaking a similar review on an international scale in the near future.

What is clear is that there is a growing amount of applied data ethics work emerging (and indeed, already out) produced by a range of different stakeholders. This demonstrates differing coverage, interests, focus and priorities – providing ethical principles, checklists and tools, as well as discussion pieces across a range of areas. After all, data ethics is a broad topic.

Our landscape review collates some of this work and complements existing materials by providing an updated collection of links and resources that we hope may provide a useful starting point for organisations and users alike. However, it fundamentally helps us as a Centre to identify priorities for our future activities. Identifying specific topic areas to provide practical guidance for the research and statistical community and contributing to our planning and engagement activities, essentially providing an initial starter for ten for our work.

From this review we can see that there are clearly many organisations operating within the data ethics space. The Centre has a positioning and remit to provide targeted, practical support, advice and guidance to users within the research and statistical community, both within Government and outside of it. Our aim is to engage with academia, the commercial sector, the wider public sector, and others, to truly empower researchers and statisticians to not only consider the ethical issues in projects, but to support the identification of potential solutions. Helping users to move beyond theories and principles and enable the practical application of data ethics, so that the power of data to support the public good can continue to be maximised.

If you are interested in collaborating with us to help us to achieve this aim, then please get in touch!