A resident’s perspective on the Data Ethics Committee

As a newcomer to the Data Ethics Committee (DEC), I was unsure what to expect from my first meeting.

From being a teacher, through to becoming a head teacher, and ultimately to working as an Essex School Advisor I have enjoyed working in a considerable number and type of schools and organisations over the last 40 years. Upon seeing the recruitment post for people to join the DEC I felt that the experiences I’d had in my career, my role as a Trustee at a Multi Academy Trust in South Essex, and ultimately the fact that I’ve enjoyed living and working in Essex since 1974 would enable me to contribute to the provision of quality services in Essex as a member of the DEC.

I joined the DEC in November 2021 and I thoroughly enjoyed participating in my first meeting. The skill of the Chair, Martine Clark, ensured that I was at ease and every agenda item was explained. The meeting did not feel rushed, nor laboured: it proceeded well, and all members of the committee were able to give measured feedback on the proposal to start a research project, Information Sharing to Tackle Violence (ISTV). This project forms a critical part of the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Partnership’s work, to reduce serious violent incidents through targeted intervention and preventative responses. The Project Lead was present at the meeting to explain in detail the proposal, including the challenges and opportunities.

The ISTV project aims to improve the insight available on the scale, size, and locations of violent incidents in Essex by standardising data collection (for the existing Information Sharing to Tackle Violence dataset), and promoting the sharing of A&E Hospital, Ambulance and Police data.

The presentation was clear, thorough, and appropriately paced. The opportunity to reflect on the presentation and to form questions around it was most welcome. The discussion reflected that there will be data quality challenges in capturing accurate, and complete, records in the operational environments included in the report. However, the Committee did not think these challenges were insurmountable, or of significant concern to overcome the clear benefit of the work. Following discussion, the DEC agreed that this research project is clearly acting in the public interest, and we requested that the Project Lead focuses on transparency, ensuring that they take the time to explain the methodology and benefits of the work to the public in a way that is meaningful.

I have always prided myself in making a difference wherever I have worked, and that’s how I felt as the meeting concluded, that I had contributed a different perspective to really get into the details of any issues that could arise from ecda projects and activity. The Committee exists to promote ethical practice around the access, use and joining of data for research and statistical purposes, ultimately to ensure it is done for the public good.

As a group we have the opportunity to weigh the benefits and risks, independently review, and guide the work ecda is doing. I would encourage fellow residents to participate in the DEC.

There are 12 DEC members, each of us with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests – not all technical experts - and we would be happy to talk to anyone that’s interested and share what is involved and how they can contribute. ecda is looking to agree new projects for its 2022 work programme as well drafting a data charter as part of its commitment to the public so next year promises to hold much more for the DEC to discuss and debate and new members are always welcome.

If you're interested in joining the Data Ethics Committee contact 

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