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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


This report, commissioned by the partnership of ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK), and the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), culminated from the need to provide a public, shared understanding of how the public themselves interpret the public good. The primary research question, what do the UK public perceive as ‘public good’ use of data for research and statistics, was explored with 68 participants from a range of backgrounds, who are routinely asked to contribute their data when interacting with public services.

Participants felt that members of the general public should be involved in the interpretation of the public good, as they did not think a concept and responsibility such as this should be politicised or decided on behalf of the public (see Public Involvement). Participants were clear that the public good use of data for research or statistics should be assessed by need, rather the number of people who would benefit (see Real-World Needs). Participants also suggested that, in order for data for research and statistics to serve the public good, organisations who collect, use, or produce data for research and statistics have a duty to communicate their work in an accessible way with members of the public (see Clear Communication). Many participants felt a personal responsibility that data about them should not contribute to something harmful (see Minimise Harm). Lastly, participants suggested that more data collected by public services should be made available in order to shape policy and decision-making that centres on people’s needs, ensuring that this is done in a responsible way (see Best Practice Safeguarding)

Participants also discussed many different ideas for how their thoughts on public good could be implemented. Some of these points are listed below:

  • Members of the public should sit on public panels to contribute to deciding whether data for research and statistics is serving the public good
  • Decisions on whether data for research and statistics are serving the public good should prioritise whether social inequality and social inequity are being addressed
  • Critical appraisals of statistics should be more prominent in the public eye to aid individuals in making their own assessments of the public good of statistics
  • Proactive public-facing communication methods for a lay audience, including tested language, should be built into standard communication strategies. Participants wanted to experience a tangible benefit resulting from their data being used for research and statistics, and want to hear more about this, including through physical communication strategies (e.g., displaying leaflets in public areas)
  • In order to identify unforeseen problems with data for research and statistics, consultation including those with lived experience should be carried out and their evidence should be used to help mitigate potential harms
  • A best practice safeguarding framework to ensure the security of data, such as the Five Safes, should be universally applied and understood to allow the public to know that publicly-collected data is being used in a way that they can trust. This is in addition to the oversight provided by UK Statistics Authority for the application of the Digital Economy Act as a legal gateway to access data for research and statistics. To promote accountability of responsible use of data for research and statistics, those enabling access to data or producing statistics should support mechanisms for whistle-blowing and public punishing of harmful behaviour.

Next steps

For ADR UK and OSR, these findings offer important insights into what these participants, who are members of the public who do not work in data and statistics, think about the public good, and how they think the benefits associated with data and statistics can be maximised. ADR UK and OSR will consider these findings, alongside other evidence, to inform how their work, and the work of others, can maximise the benefits associated with data for research and statistics for the public good.

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