Third meeting of the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics independent Advisory Committee
- Minutes and Matters Arising
- Update on Centre Activities, to include impact metrics
- Centre Activities: International workstream and engagement update
- Ethics Guidance Update
- Centre Activities: Ethics service update
- Any Other Business
- Professor David Hand (Chair)
- Sam Cannicott (Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation)
- Colin Godbold (Independent member)
- Emma Gordon (UKRI ESRC)
- Roger Halliday (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
- Emma Walker
- Simon Whitworth
- Lily O’Flynn (for item 5)
- Sue Bateman (Government Digital Service)
- Reema Patel (Ada Lovelace Institute)
- Tom Smith (Data Science Campus, Office for National Statistics)
1. Welcome and Introductions
- The Chair welcomed the members to the third meeting of the Centre for Applied Data Ethics Advisory Committee.
- 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.
- Emma Walker updated the committee on the progress of actions from previous meetings. All actions are complete or otherwise in progress. The stakeholder engagement plan has been extended to include more stakeholder groups in response to feedback from the committee, and guidance pieces are being iteratively updated based on feedback from committee members as well as other members of the data ethics community.
2. Brief update on Centre activities, to include impact metrics
- Alice Toms presented a summary overview of the progress of the Centre, and the new Centre metric dashboard, with specific reference to progress made since the last meeting.
- The committee were impressed by the outputs and activities of the Centre to date, and were interested in learning how the Centre would ensure that the guidance produced is being used, and how researchers are being supported in applying the guidance to their research.
- Discussion of these activities focused on a number of areas, including the potential to increase the Centre’s visibility across the Analytical Function and various profession groupings, a consideration of the different ways in which we can measure the impact of ethics guidance and embedding of this within projects, the engagement and feedback that has been received to date, and embedding this work effectively within the Integrated Data Service.
- It is important for the Centre to ensure that the services offered are having an impact on user research, and that work is tailored to ensure that the Centre reacts to changes in the data ethics space and the evolving needs of users in a timely manner.
- It was suggested that the Centre could use the Integrated Data Service project as a case study to champion how important ethics by design is, and to help promote good data ethics practices within the ONS.
- The committee were interested in hearing about how guidance is developed and suggested that co-creation and feedback collected during development should be measured. The Centre has found it beneficial to target individuals with an interest in the guidance topic during development, and this also provides the Centre with a growing network of collaborators for the future.
- Members of the committee recommended that the Centre considers what “success” looks like at different stages, as the level of feedback, number of citations, and use of guidance may change over time. It was also suggested that the Centre try to collate metrics relating to areas in which we can improve – this might be constructive negative feedback, or barriers which stop researchers from engaging with ethics for example.
- The committee felt that it could be beneficial for the Centre to engage with researchers through blog posts and commentaries on contemporary issues of note within the data ethics space. This may encourage more long-term interest in the services that the Centre provides.
ACTION: The Centre will ensure that conversations with the Integrated Data Service are maintained, and that the Centre considers this work as a potential case study regarding the early embedding of ethics across a project.
ACTION: The Centre team will explore ways of gathering, analysing, and displaying impact measures over time, and ways in which the Centre can collate metrics relating to areas for improvement. The potential to introduce targets related to these metrics in 2022 will also be considered.
ACTION: The Centre team will consider opportunities to continue to increase, and assess, awareness of the Centre and its ethics services across the Analytical Function via a range of existing mechanisms and in line with the suggestions of the committee.
3. Centre Activities: International work stream and engagement update
- Emma Walker presented this item, providing the committee with an overview of the progress that the Centre has made in developing an international workstream, collaborations and relationships.
- A key aspect of the Centre’s activities is focused on raising the profile of the Centre internationally. This includes leading international engagement activities in the area of data ethics, sharing our experience with others, and learning from others.
- Some of the international Centre activities to date include:
- Leading the UNECE Machine Learning 2021 group ethics workstream and the resultant production of guidance relating to ethical considerations in the use of machine learning for official statistics, which is to be published in the next few weeks.
- Joining the UNECE Ethical Leadership 2021 task team, which focuses on the relationship between business ethics and data ethics within national statistical institutes.
- Undertaking an initial international survey of other national statistical institutes, an initial theme meeting with eight other countries following this to explore areas of mutual interest, and the development of a programme of future deep dive meetings on topics of interest arising from this initial theme meeting.
- The Centre is now focusing on broadening its reach outside of the UNECE and has been engaging with UNESCAP (Asia-Pacific region) and UNECA (African region), in collaboration with the ONS-FCDO Data Science Hub and the ONS International Development team. A presentation has also been given to the International Data Strategy Working Group. Conversations with groups and organisations interested in data ethics are ongoing, and this will help to ensure that there is not unnecessary overlap or gaps in the work being done within the community more widely.
- The committee felt that it is important for the Centre to continue to engage with devolved administrations going forward, ensuring that outputs reflect the policy positions of administrations across the UK.
- The outputs of the Centre are focused on the analytical and applied data ethics space, but the Centre is aware that there is some overlap with other sectors, and therefore a need to ensure that researchers from these sectors are engaged in the work of the Centre.
- Several members suggested potential contacts for future collaboration and were encouraged to share contact details via email after the meeting.
ACTIONS: Committee members to contact the Centre team to follow up suggestions for individuals who may be beneficial to engage with, both in relation to the Centre’s international work and wider engagement plans.
ACTIONS: The Centre will explore ways in which it can continue to engage, and collaborate with, devolved administrations on data ethics and will make contact with relevant stakeholders for further discussion.
4. Ethics Guidance Update
- Initial ethics guidance has been published on the following topics:
- Ethical considerations in the use of geospatial data for research and statistics (published in May 2021)
- Considering public good in research and statistics (published in July 2021)
- Considering public views and engagement in research and statistics (published September 2021)
- Having developed various pieces of guidance, the Centre’s focus in this area is now shifting slightly, and the Centre will be making efforts to evaluate engagement with the guidance to ensure that it has impact. This will be done in several ways, to include a qualitative research programme, evaluation of ethics self-assessment tool submissions over time, and outreach with different stakeholder groups to convene joint events, workshops, and presentations.
- The Centre has several further pieces of guidance in draft, covering the ethical considerations of using third party data, machine learning, and the inclusivity of data.
- The Committee felt that the Centre should try to engage with audiences who have not traditionally focused on ethical issues to expand the potential user groups who use the Centre’s guidance. Discussion focused on how “ethics” may not always be a useful word to use when trying to engage with different groups, as it may be seen as abstract, theoretical or difficult, so “responsible use” or other terms may be more appropriate.
- The committee also thought that it would be beneficial to think further about who can advocate for the Centre and how we can leverage those we have engaged to recommend and disseminate information about the Centre to others. It would be beneficial for the Centre to have a network of individuals for this, from a wide range of sectors and subject areas, as analysts from these different areas may have differing understanding and levels of engagement with ethics.
- A member of the committee recommended an area for future guidance may be the collection and analysis of data on businesses.
ACTION: The Centre will identify a list of potential advocates who may be willing to publicise the work of the Centre in the future.
ACTION: The Centre will consider the language that is used when discussing ethics with various audiences and the different ways in which these issues may be communicated.
ACTION: The Centre will explore the possibility of producing ethics guidance on the collection, analysis and use of data relating to businesses, rather than people or places.
5. Centre Activities: Ethics service update
- Lily O’Flynn presented this item. The presentation provided members of the committee with an update on the data ethics services. The service side of the team supports researchers in understanding and applying the UK Statistics Authority’s ethical principles.
- The ethics services offered can be divided into two main parts – the ethics self-assessment tool and its associated support services, and the support and advice offered by the National Statistician’s Data Ethics Advisory Committee. Both have been established for some time, but corresponding with the launch of the Centre, there has been an uptake in use, and the team aim to improve and elevate these services as best as possible in order to better support researchers.
- So far this year, the self-assessment tool has been used 190 times, and the last 3 months have seen an increase in use, with the tool averaging around 25 uses a month. This may have occurred as a result of the new Centre and the resulting publicity, as well as the launch of a new ethics hub for researchers within the ONS.
- Researchers looking at a broad range of topics are engaging with the tool, however some topic areas such as birth, mortality, and migration seem to have lower engagement – this may be a general trend in that less research is being done in these areas, or it may be that particular parts of the research community require greater engagement, and the service team would like to explore this further.
- The committee were pleased that the services being provided were having impact across the statistical system, and across different types of statistical groups, and suggested that different trends should be measured over time to enable the Centre to better target different audiences.
ACTION: The Service team will continue to collect metrics relating to the impact of services provided, with a consideration of trends and changes over time.
6. Any Other Business
- The committee suggested that it could be beneficial for the Centre to find and collate examples of research that has gone wrong as a result of a lack of ethical consideration. This has been explored by the team before, but it can be difficult to find openly available examples of such cases. Statistics Canada have made some progress in this area, so the Centre may benefit from engaging with them on this topic.
- The Chair thanked the committee for their contribution to the meeting, commenting that the Centre has been very dynamic, engaged and so far, successful in its activities. The committee were informed that a new colleague will be joining the Centre team in the coming weeks.
- The next meeting of the Centre for Applied Data Ethics Advisory Committee is on Wednesday 19th January 2022.
ACTION: The Centre will contact colleagues at Statistics Canada to discuss the collection of research examples and case studies, as well as following up on the examples provided by the committee.
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.