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Data that locates people and businesses within a physical location can be hugely beneficial when undertaking research and producing aggregate statistics, allowing us to better integrate and understand information for the public good.
However, as with many forms of data, the use of geospatial data can also raise ethical considerations related to the potential for discrimination or harm based on location, aspects related to privacy and confidentiality of data subjects, ensuring inclusivity in sources and methods, and the potential for bias. All of these aspects are touched on by the principles of the recently released Locus Charter, however it can be difficult to know how best to apply such principles at the individual project level.
The UK Statistics Authority’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics was launched in February this year to support and empower analysts across the research and statistical community, both within government and outside of it, in applying data ethics to their work. In May, the Centre released its first piece of applied ethics guidance. This focused on ethical considerations in the use of geospatial data for research and statistics, alongside an accompanying blog, and was developed in response to analysts perceiving a lack of practical data ethics guidance on this topic that they could apply to their work.
The guidance was developed in collaboration with geospatial colleagues within the Office for National Statistics, before being released as an open draft for wider comment and feedback from the user community. This ranged from analysts working with location data in government, to those using public data for research and analysis across other sectors, including academia, charities, and the commercial sector. Over the summer, we incorporated feedback and comments that we had received and are now keen to understand how useful this guidance is when applied to projects ‘on the ground’.
Understanding the potential impact that ethics guidance materials have on projects across a range of sectors is vital. It enables us to ensure that the resources we develop are as useful as possible and targeted in the right way. It also enables us to consider whether we are presenting and disseminating this information appropriately, or whether we need to look at other ways to engage analysts and researchers with ethics. This may be via the development of more in-depth training, discussion, or collaborative events.
A key focus of this next stage of our work is on examining the impact that our geospatial ethics guidance has had. One of the ways that we are doing this is to undertake qualitative research, organising a series of focus groups over the coming months to explore who has used our guidance and how, and whether they have found it useful to inform their thinking and projects. We are also interested in talking to people who haven’t used, or potentially haven’t even heard of, our guidance, to understand why this is the case and how we can best address any potential issues.
We need you!
We can only understand the impact that our guidance has had on the analytical community by talking to researchers and analysts, whether they work in local or national government, the devolved administrations, academia, the charity sector or commercial institutions.
So, please get in touch! If you would like to express interest in participating in our future focus group discussions or have any case studies of how our guidance has informed your thinking or influenced your work that you would be willing to share, we would love to hear from you!
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