Fifth meeting of the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics Independent Advisory Committee.
- Minutes and Matters Arising
- An Update on Centre Activities
- International Workstream and Engagement Update
- Ethics Guidance Piece: Ethical considerations in the use of qualitative research methods
- Centre Activities: Ethics Services update
- Any Other Business
- Professor David Hand (Chair)
- Sam Cannicott (Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation)
- Colin Godbold (Independent member)
- Emma Gordon (UKRI ESRC)
- Reema Patel (Ada Lovelace Institute)
- Alistair McAlpine (Scottish Government)
- Emma Rourke( Office for National Statistics)
- Professor Donald Simeon (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago and Royal Statistical Society)
UK Statistics Authority
- Alice Toms
- Daniel Towler
- Simon Whitworth
- Sue Bateman (Government Digital Service)
- Tom Smith (Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities)
1. Minutes and Matters Arising
- The Chair welcomed the members to the fifth meeting of the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics Advisory Committee.
- The committee were informed that there is a new member of the committee, Alistair McAlpine. He is taking over from Roger Halliday and is the new Chief Statistician at Scottish Government.
- The committee were made aware that the minutes for the previous meeting have now been published on the Centre webpages. This is in line with the CADEAC Terms of Reference.
- Simon Whitworth updated the committee on the progress of actions from previous meetings. All actions are complete or otherwise in progress.
2. An Update on Centre Activities
- This update was presented by Simon Whitworth and provided an overview of the Centre activities over the last three months. This has included the delivery of training `to the ONS Secure Research Service, UK Data Archive, the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency data processing environments to support the use of the revised self-assessment tool.
- The Centre will be producing a video tutorial on the use of the self-assessment tool to be published in June.
- NSDEC last met on the 27th April, and discussed projects including the 2021 Census Cohort Study, and work to resolve conflicting ethnicities in administrative data.
- Guidance on the Inclusivity of Data was published by the Centre in February, and the team are currently working on pieces of guidance relating to the ethical considerations of qualitative research methods, and the use of synthetic data.
- One of the members of the committee who also sits on NSDEC was invited to provide their thoughts on current projects. They were particularly interested in the ongoing work surrounding the 2021 Census Cohort study. Discussions are currently being had about how the census can be best kept up to date. It will be imperative to present this effectively to the public to ensure that it is has maximum value, and public perceptions and attitudes need further consideration.
- The committee discussed how NSDEC and the projects that it reviews has changed since it was formed. In the first few years, projects came through that were fairly self-contained, but more recently the committee are seeing more linkage-based projects, and the research landscape appears to be changing.
- The committee is very supportive of the public value of many of the projects that come through NSDEC, which is invaluable in providing independent advice to researchers so that projects can move forward in an ethically sound way.
3. International Workstream and Engagement Update
- Simon Whitworth Presented this item. The paper reported on the progress that has been made by the Centre in the international ethics space.
- The Centre is continuing to provide training and guidance internationally. This has included delivering data ethics training at UNECE and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) events to statisticians working in National Statistical Organisations.
- The Centre continues to make significant contributions to international initiatives, such as UNECE Task Team on Ethical Leadership and the UNESCAP Asia-Pacific Stats events on Big Data and Governance.
- Earlier this year the Centre team developed a proposal for a UNECE in-depth review on data ethics. In-depth reviews are an important avenue of statistical development in the UNECE region, aiming to address gaps and emerging issues. The reviews take stock of what international organizations and countries are doing in a given area, identify the problems, and propose how to solve them. This proposal was accepted by the UNECE and we have agreed to lead this in-depth review alongside Statistics Canada with support from Statistics Poland and Eurostat. The review will be completed by September 2022.
- The Centre is also working with the ONS international team to actively seek opportunities on the international stage to participate in wider discussion on data ethics.
- The committee were pleased to hear that the Centre has been making great progress in the international ethics space.
- It appears that ethics is becoming more relevant internationally, and this has been exemplified in recent conferences, where data stewardship and ethics have been discussed widely.
- The committee highlighted that whilst leveraging international relationships is very important there is also an opportunity to blend international collaboration into the projects that come through the self-assessment. International access to the Secure Research Service is not currently allowed. The Centre has the opportunity to act as a facilitator in this area, as well as leading the effort to support the raising of ethical standards globally.
- Several committee members suggested potential contacts and ideas for future collaboration and were encouraged to follow up with the team after the meeting.
- One of the challenges with working in the international ethics space, is that different organisations have different definitions of ethics. For some, there is a focus on corporate business ethics, whilst the Centre’s focus is specific to data ethics.
ACTION: The Centre team will follow up with members who made suggestions and offers for international collaboration.
4. Ethics Guidance Piece: Ethical considerations in the use of qualitative research methods
- Alice Toms presented this item, which invites feedback on the draft ethics guidance produced by the UKSA Centre for Applied Data Ethics.
- The guidance focuses on the ethical considerations related to the use of qualitative research methods and has been created in collaboration with the ONS Data Quality Hub, in response to user need.
- The guidance brings together current literature on qualitative methods and associated ethical concerns. It aims to be a “one-stop shop” for ONS researchers thinking about ethics in their qualitative work.
- The committee emphasised the need for this guidance and felt that it was both valuable and very comprehensive.
- Members suggested that the guidance could have wider application within government, academia, and for research ethics committees. It was suggested that in order to reach these audiences the guidance could benefit from further publication, in an academic journal or similar.
- The committee felt that the guidance could benefit from more content relating to standards when working with children and young people.
- The committee highlighted further scope for guidance in the qualitative research area, relating to the growing field of digital ethnography and web-scraping techniques. It was suggested that a separate piece of guidance that focused on these blended methods, and how we can navigate the ethical issues associated with this would be beneficial to the research community.
ACTION: The Centre will consider the points raised relating to the guidance and will update the draft to reflect this.
ACTION: The Centre will consider how this piece of guidance can be disseminated further for maximum impact and value.
ACTION: The Centre will contact relevant members to discuss the possibility of producing a further piece of guidance on blended methods and new technologies.
5. Centre Activities: Ethics Services update
- Daniel Towler presented this item, providing the committee with updates on the ethics services provided by the Centre. This included an update on the revised self-assessment tool and the outcomes of related user engagement activities; updated metrics related to recent use of the ethics self-assessment tool, and; updates on the last NSDEC meeting.
- The Centre released the third iteration of the self-assessment tool in March. This was updated and improved based upon user feedback and engagement. The iteration was supported by new guidance, a blog post written by Emma Gordon, and an article from the Second Permanent Secretary.
- The popularity of the tool is continuing to be demonstrated, with the Centre team receiving 48% more self-assessments from January to April 2022, when compared to the same period in 2021.
- The committee suggested that the self-assessment tool could be utilised to enable international access to ONS data, and this could be an interesting avenue to explore in order to increase the use of the tool, maximise international engagement, and to promote the work of the Centre more generally.
- The committee were interested in hearing about the value of the self-assessment tool, and for what proportion of ONS research projects it is being used. The Centre team are confident that as the self-assessment is embedded into the data access process, that a large proportion of ONS projects are using the tool. The self-assessment acts as a tool to help identify the most ethically risky projects, which could further benefit from independent advice from NSDEC.
- For external projects, the self-assessment tool is recommended under the Digital Economy Act (DEA), however researchers have the option to use other ethical frameworks should they wish to. Most projects which access data using the DEA use the Centre self-assessment tool, but some may use other ethical processes (such as university research ethics committees).
ACTION: The Centre will look into how we can utilise the self-assessment tool to help enable international access to data.
6. Any Other Business
- The Chair thanked the committee for their contribution to the meeting, commenting that the Centre has been very successful in its activities to date.
- The next meeting of the Centre for Applied Data Ethics Advisory Committee is on Wednesday 10th August 2022.
ACTION: The committee were invited to email any further contributions to the discussion should they wish to.
ACTION: The Centre team will distribute minutes to the Committee, who are invited to provide comments before they are made publicly available.