Ethical considerations related to the inclusivity of data for research and statistics

16 February 2022
Last updated:
16 March 2022

Public good

The use of public data for research and statistics should produce some form of public good benefit. Public good in work can encompass a broad range of potential benefits to society and this is discussed in more detail in the UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics guidance on considering and articulating public good in research and statistics.

It is important that inclusivity is appropriately addressed when considering the public good of your work. In particular, consider the extent to which proposed public good benefits are applicable across different groups in society, and any potential risks of the work to different groups that will need to be mitigated in order to maximise the public good. This may include:

  • Ensuring adequate population coverage in sampling strategies to maximise the potential for your work to achieve public good
  • Identifying, and where possible mitigating, the potential for people to be missing from data sources and acknowledging the likely impact of this on the ability of the work to achieve public good
  • Identifying potential risks or harms that may be specific to the type of data that you are using (i.e., could this be considered sensitive in any way?), the individuals or groups that are providing it (i.e., are they marginalised, under-represented or at risk of disadvantage?), and any historical or social sensitivities that may relate to the wider context of the project

With secondary data that has been collected for administrative purposes (e.g. individuals interacting with public services), highlighting public good is necessary when it is to be used for research and statistical purposes. This can be achieved by articulating the purpose of such projects and how the use of the data will be inclusive. As administrative data has not undergone an ethical review process, undertaking an ethical review of the proposed use of that data is necessary and can help to identify and address inclusivity issues and increase public benefit in your project.

Prior research has suggested that the use of data for research purposes is generally supported by the public. However, people may have concerns that data collected for one purpose could be used for another, which may result in reluctance to share data or information related to their identity. This issue may be of greater concern to different people or communities, and this should be considered and addressed appropriately when developing your project approach. Our public good guidance provides further information to help consider potential harms and address public good in your work.

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