Findings on trust, transparency, and engagement 

Extending Outreach and representation

Inclusion and representation were described as essential by participants, especially for those regularly excluded from data collection. Individuals reported that effective engagement which incorporates a wide range of views is critical.

“Ensure that you are consulting widely with ALL parties, listening carefully to the arguments, references, evidence and concerns.” (Individual).

Some participants noted a perceived lack of engagement with certain groups, particularly those at higher risk of disadvantage, which they felt resulted in their under-representation in data. They felt this could also produce ill-informed conclusions. For example, a participant noted that predictions around the result of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum may have been incorrect because certain groups were under-represented in the data due to living in circumstances not covered by traditional data collection methods, such as those with irregular migration status.

“This renders participation in research and data exercises almost completely inaccessible.” (Individual).

Participants noted that further efforts should be made to reach under-represented groups in data and evidence, with the onus on those collecting the data.

“We need to stop thinking of populations as ‘hard to reach’ but instead as ‘seldom reached’ or ‘routinely excluded from data collection’.” (Individual).

Organisations gave several examples of groups who may be left out of traditional data collection pathways including:

  • the “hidden homeless”, such as sofa surfers
  • those living in precarious circumstances who make efforts to hide away or keep moving due to risk of violence
  • people who find alternative, potentially unsafe, arrangements to avoid homelessness, for example ”engaging in so-called ‘sex for rent'”
  • people who do not access support or services needed due to fears of their personal situations worsening, such as being left homeless or having a child removed due to accessing support for domestic abuse

This links to the inclusivity of data collection procedures discussed under the methodological practices theme.

Current efforts to improve representation through wider engagement and consultation were widely appreciated by participants though organisations particularly suggested a greater focus is needed on collaboration and subsequent action. This included calls for more frequent consultation with organisations (such as those advocating for equalities) and the public. More effective inclusion of under-represented groups, whose voices may not be heard and whose experiences may differ from others, was also suggested as was collaboration with organisations with relevant expertise. However, engagement and consultation were viewed as only the first steps, with subsequent action required to make real progress.

“This consultation, and the broader work of the Inclusive Data Taskforce [should] lead to substantive action to address the lack of inclusive data in Scotland and across the UK.” (Close the Gap).

“We acknowledge the efforts the ONS has made since 2019 to improve how we look at disability, including outcomes for education, employment, housing, crime, well-being, loneliness and social participation. The [Disability] Trust, however, would appreciate extending this data to capture and present data on hidden disabilities, including the behavioural, cognitive, and emotional consequences of brain injury. This may be facilitated by linking up with key organisations to facilitate collection of data from individuals with disabilities living in communal settings, and to ensure their views and experiences are included.” (Disability Trust).

Some participants also felt that contact with ONS and other government representatives could be improved, as attempts to reach out were not always met with a response. They perceived this as a barrier to sharing knowledge and expertise, as well as limiting opportunities for external quality assurance.

“RMCC welcomes working collaboratively with researchers and other organisations to support and inform participatory research and co-production work.” (Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium).

Some individual participants also wanted better communication, promotion, and visibility of data and evidence. They felt it would be helpful to raise awareness of what is available, as well as clearly outlining existing evidence gaps. Some participants suggested how communications could be improved, such as by ensuring inquiries are addressed in a timely fashion and that more outreach work is done.

“Newsletters could be created by the ONS and sent out to Local Authorities to keep us aware of changes, new datasets or reports and other changes.” (Local Authority).

Not all participants felt that outreach would be helpful, with one individual noting a general level of apathy to statistics, even if they convey a damning message (Individual).

Another participant suggested that more qualitative data, including ethnographic research into different demographic groups and cultures, be used and published alongside figures for humanising these stats. This was offered as a way to increase public engagement and stakeholder buy-in.

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Trust in data and data collection 

Organisation and individual participants felt that some people and communities were less likely to engage in data collection activities due to a lack of trust around this interaction and concerns about potential consequences. These factors were thought to have a negative impact on the integrity and useability of the data. As noted earlier, some participants perceived a widespread issue of trust when trying to obtain reliable data (Individual) from under-represented minority ethnic groups, particularly those from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, and migrant communities.

Both individuals and organisations reported that a lack of trust can sometimes stem from fears that engagement in data collection processes will worsen participants’ current situations, such as the risk of detention to those without documentation. A charity organisation stated that fear of the use of immigration status data by agencies may dissuade victims from reporting violent crimes. The result of this mistrust may mean that some communities, who have specific needs and circumstances, are regularly omitted from survey data.

Engaging in data collection was also viewed by some participants as potentially harmful, especially when people are presented with response options which they feel do not represent them. To avoid this, participants highlighted the importance of ensuring that questions and responses are inclusive and enable individuals to answer in a way that best reflects their identity.

“Data collection can trigger isolation and significant alienation, such as dysphoria in intersex and non-binary people who are forced to report themselves as having a binary sex (as happened to intersex and non-binary people aged under 16 in the 2021 Census). Therefore, what is important is to enable and support those who are collecting, using and sharing data to properly examine such considerations as part of their data collection and service design processes.” (Charity organisation).

This also links to diversity within the research community, with some participants noting that trust in research may be improved if researchers themselves were more like those involved in the research.

“The act of data collection about people with protected characteristics by those without them can itself be seen as a form of disenfranchisement, disempowerment and exploitation, which leads to some communities becoming unwilling to take part in data collection, or distrustful of data-driven applications.” (Individual).

Collaboration with communities throughout the research process was seen as crucial to develop trusting relationships.

Perceptions of independence and impartiality of the data collector were also viewed as important to public trust. People may perceive data collection to be influenced by political factors, particularly where the topics are the subject of ongoing political debate.

Some participants also noted that that the ways statistics are presented can be misleading and called for more information to be shared about the data, and the level of uncertainty associated with it.

“Both the ONS and by Government departments publish statistics that may well be misleading, but with limited warnings that this may be the case. For example, the area profiles on Nomis (an ONS service providing access to official UK labour market statistics) often provide figures with a lot of uncertainty around them, but they don’t flag this is the case. Another example is the data published in the Ethnicity Facts and Figures on employment by ethnicity, which again does not acknowledge the level of uncertainty.” (House of Commons Library).

An academic and research sector organisation noted that the media and politicians, may fuel this public distrust towards government and the data it collects in seeking to discredit the policies of their opponents. Both individuals and organisations also suggested that a lack of transparency from government around why data are needed and collected, and how data are used, may prompt further distrust in data collection and outputs. It was suggested that transparency could be improved in areas such as the aims of data collection, the data collection design process, and the supporting information to explain the published statistics. A lack of understanding around reasons for collecting data and how it is used may undermine the trust of research participants, particularly when positive action does not seem to result from the data collection.

In relation to holding and sharing data, some participants advised that all organisations should be encouraged to carry out Equalities Impact Assessments (EIAs) and make them publicly available to increase public trust in data collection and statistics. To build trust in data collectors and public willingness to share their data, participants also noted that people need to have a strong sense of confidence in the way their data will be used, that positive outcomes will result, and that action is taken to reduce any risk of harm.

“Address the harmful data sharing practices between immigration enforcement and other public services which deter individuals from using services as well as participating in data gathering exercises.” (Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium).

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