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A UK-wide public dialogue exploring what the public perceive as ‘public good’ use of data for research and statistics

4 October 2022
Last updated:
2 June 2023


Dr Emma Gordon, ADR UK

At ADR UK, maximising the power of administrative data for the public good underpins everything we do. In practice this means developing and strengthening partnerships with public, government and academic stakeholders as we realise our mission of transforming the way researchers safely access the wealth of administrative data for research that aims to improve people’s lives. By working in this way, ADR UK is bridging the gap between government and academia, enabling policy to be informed by the best evidence available. 

The ADR UK programme began as a three-year pilot to test the feasibility of our mission. In 2020, in the final year of our pilot phase, we published a review of public attitudes towards the sharing and linking of administrative data for research. It found that the public is broadly supportive of this use of administrative data if three core conditions are met: that the research serves the public interest; data is protected from identification and re-identification; and that there is trust and transparency on behalf of those handling the data. This work provided a steer to develop the ADR UK Public Engagement Strategy and informed the vision for our current investment period (2021-2026). 

Engaging directly with members of the public informs every stage of our work. Listening and responding to public views is essential to demonstrating trustworthiness and maximising the public benefit of research using administrative data. This public dialogue is the first project of its kind for ADR UK and therefore serves as a milestone for the programme. The insights generated from this work will be carefully considered as we seek to inform practices across the ADR UK programme. They also provide a starting point for deeper exploration of issues related to the use of public sector data for the public good. We hope that this work can serve as an important resource for others working with data and statistics. 

Ed Humpherson, Office for Statistics Regulation

In OSR we have a vision that statistics will serve the public good, and we believe that strong meaningful engagement with the public is key to ensuring that we can bring this vision to life.

This report presents fascinating and novel insights into an important subject and makes a strong contribution to our understanding of how the public perceive the public good of data for research and statistics.

The findings illustrate an important point: there is no one ‘single’ public. Participants themselves grappled with the concept of defining ‘the public’, showing it is not perhaps as straightforward as it might seem. The findings also illustrate that ‘the public’ are not just one homogenous group, as we can see that participants did not always agree with each other. Whilst this may show that we were successful in recruiting a diverse sample of participants and creating an environment where they felt comfortable respectfully disagreeing with each other, it also shows the importance of inclusive discussion. Over the course of the workshops, through listening to each other and considering other viewpoints, participants developed increasingly richer and more nuanced insights about the public good which has helped us to develop a valuable resource.

Another key finding to highlight was that participants saw clear distinctions between the phrases public good, public interest, and public benefit; phrases which are often used interchangeably by those who write about data for research and statistics. This is a fascinating insight which emphasises the importance of choosing language thoughtfully and carefully for public-facing communications.

This work is an exciting and important step for us. It helps us understand what more could be done to serve the public good from the perspective of the public. We will consider this evidence carefully as we evaluate the role that statistics plays in the lives of the public, and consider how to ensure that statistics are serving the public good.

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