At the ODI, we want a world where data works for everyone, and our manifesto outlines how this vision can be achieved. Engagement is one of our manifesto points. Everyone must be able to take part in making data work for us all. Organisations and communities should collaborate on how data is used and accessed to help solve their problems. How could this principle be realised in a national data strategy?
Lessons from pandemic response: innovation that engages
The Covid-19 pandemic has shed new light on the role of data in society, as well as placed data specialist organisations and teams under unprecedented pressure and scrutiny. This is an opportunity to learn from recent experiences and to build better – both for future interventions for pandemic response, and to support how governments, businesses and communities can respond to other emergencies.
Some of the most high-profile discussions and decisions about the role of data in pandemic response have been around the introduction of new digital technologies, such as health-related apps, for data collection and analysis. At the heart of these discussions has been the balance between allowing rapid deployment against giving due weight to ethical review. But this is a false dichotomy: we believe not only that robust ethical review can take place alongside bold innovation, but also that robust ethical review is necessary for the innovation to be trusted and taken up. In this way, responsible innovation is a pathway for introducing innovations that have wider acceptance – and longer-term sustainability as a result.
And responsible innovation doesn’t have to be a top-down way of working: open innovation, where tools and resources (such as data or software code) are available for several different participants to build and collaborate, can enable different types of organisations or communities to engage with a problem and to provide their own approach and priorities to it. For example, in the spring the ODI offered free support to people and organisations for data projects to help with pandemic response. Through this initiative, supported by Luminate, we were able to assist new symptom tracker app TrackTogether in publishing data from its symptom tracker to help other innovators or policymakers, using the ODI’s guide for anonymising data in times of crisis and the Octopub open data publishing tool.
So the kinds of commitments we’d like to see in a national data strategy include a recognition of the importance of responsible innovation as the foundation for innovation with data that is trusted, accepted, and more sustainable and successful as a result.
Lessons from pandemic response: engagement across sectors and communities
In response to the pandemic, there have been some really positive and encouraging examples of data sharing across organisations and sectors for the benefit of society. For example, there has been more sharing of mobility data – data about how motor vehicles, bicycles and people are moving across an area over time – to help generate useful insights such as the transport needs or options for key workers. There have also been new forms of collaboration around data and technology, with communities coming together to find data to solve problems. The speed, scale and variety of these collaborations has also created new roles in the data ecosystem, or given more prominence to existing roles, such as data curators and data intermediaries.
But it’s important that decisions about data involve the people and communities that might be affected. For example, does the work demonstrate community consent? Does it demonstrate learning governance? Access to the right data can help us to tackle important challenges, and it’s equally important that this data is available in ways that don’t cause harm to people or communities. One possible tool for trusted sharing of data is through data institutions: these are organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims. This is a new programme area for the ODI, where our research is showing that data institutions can help empower individuals and communities.
So we’d like to see a national data strategy that recognises the importance of data institutions as focal points for collaboration across a community, and a commitment to supporting their practical implementation.
Lessons from pandemic response: engagement for transparency and trust
It’s also important that organisations and communities collaborate on how data is collected and used, and how the outcomes of data analysis are communicated. For example, when a government shares its forecasts and modelling about different aspects of the pandemic, this makes it possible for anyone to explore or adapt the work – potentially helping to identify errors, or identifying opportunities for improvement through innovation. It can also help ensure that journalists, civil society organisations, public bodies, and the private sector can participate fully in a trusted data ecosystem around pandemic response. At the ODI we’ve also been doing some new work on collaborative data maintenance – an approach for individuals, organisations and communities to work together on collecting and maintaining shared data assets in a way that improves trust and transparency in how that data is used, and that can also reduce the costs of collecting and stewarding the data, as well as improve its quality and usefulness. Some of these are ideas that we explored in other blog posts in this national data strategy manifesto series on ethics and on innovation and on infrastructure.
It’s also important that there is transparency and consistency by governments, business and civil society organisations on the kinds of analyses that are being used and how these are communicated. This can help ensure that organisations undertaking data collection and analysis will have public trust and can be held appropriately accountable, and can benefit from the perspectives and contributions of a wider range of stakeholders. Some of these are ideas we explored in other blog posts in this series, on skills and on equity.
So we’d like to see a national data strategy that invests in collaborative approaches to data collection and use for better data quality and usefulness, and that supports measures for ensuring transparent and accessible data analysis and its communication.
These are just some of our aspirations for a national data strategy, and some of the ideas we are exploring as we develop our response to the consultation about the UK’s National Data Strategy 2020. We also discussed some of these ideas at the ODI Summit this month (if you missed it, you can catch up on some of the sessions on our YouTube channel).
The consultation is open to individuals and organisations across the UK, and it’s important that a wide range of voices and perspectives contribute to it – so do share and participate.
At the start of this project, we pulled together this spreadsheet to map the different elements of the UK National Data Strategy, to help us plan our response to it. We’ve also made a version which shows which sections of the National Data Strategy we think are most relevant to our ODI manifesto ideas about engagement, to examine those sections in more depth and evaluate them. Feel free to download the spreadsheet and to adapt it for your own use.
For more about how we’re engaging with the UK National Data Strategy consultation, please visit the project page.