Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy Elena Whitham visited a local project yesterday (21 November 2023) to meet people benefiting from the Scottish Government’s £3.1 million Digital Lifelines Programme.
Engagement on the use of public sector data
Using data to monitor rainfall will sound uncontroversial to most people. On the other hand, using data to identify vulnerable individuals at risk of flooding could be much more contentious, and require careful balancing of risks and benefits to minimise harm and ensure public trust.
But what does that “careful balancing” look like, what does it depend on? And what does the public consider to be in “public interest”? In this blog, I would like to tell you more about what the Scottish Government is doing to involve the public in decision making around ethical use of data in the public sector.
Championing ethical use of data and public engagement
The Data & Intelligence Network (DIN) of the Scottish Government is a cross-agency network of public and third sector organisations active in the Health, Social care, Environment, Education and Justice spheres. The DIN was created at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a vision to catalyse data and knowledge exchange across organisations for public benefit. Appreciating the societal responsibility that comes with mobilising data, including data about citizens, the DIN pledged to position ethical data use and public participation at the heart of their operations. To stay true to this mission, the DIN recently set up the DIN Pilot Public Engagement Panel.
- to test the participants’ perception of using data about citizens in the public sector
- to promote public engagement across the member organisations of the Network, and
- to create a blueprint for a sustainable public panel on the use of data.
The DIN Pilot Public Engagement Panel
The Panel consists of 30 Scottish citizens broadly reflecting the Scottish population in terms of age, gender, ethnic background, location and socio-economic status. We were delighted to welcome them into post in September, and over the course of the next three months they will explore data use in the public sector under different circumstances and deliberate on what ethical data use looks like to them. In total, the panel will be involved in six workshops.
- This process started with understanding what data, data protection and data ethics are (workshop 1).
- In workshops 2 and 3, the panellists were presented with past data-led projects undertaken by the DIN and invited to consider the risks and benefits of these project.
- With the guidance of expert facilitators, the panellists will then deliberate on what public sector data use they find acceptable or unacceptable and start forming recommendations on ethical data use for the DIN (workshop 4).
- Lastly, the participants are invited to test and refine their ethical principles by applying them on ongoing or future data-led projects in the public sector (workshops 5 and 6).
What are the outputs?
The information collected through the workshops will be analysed and summarised in the final report which we expect to publish in Spring 2023. This report will contain ethical recommendations formed by the Panel, and recommendations for setting up a standing Panel. We will furthermore collate a set of lessons learnt from setting up and running the pilot Panel for sharing with other teams who want to embark on a public engagement journey. In addition, the panellists’ feedback on the individual past and ongoing data-led projects will be shared with colleagues developing projects, to allow them to consider ways to ensure that citizens’ voices are embedded.
Watch this space for updates on the DIN Pilot Public Engagement Panel!
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