2 July 2019

Living with data

Professor Helen Kennedy has been awarded a grant from the Nuffield Foundation for a new project that will investigate how we 'live' with data.

A print out of data sitting next to a notepad and a laptop.

Helen will work on the project, entitled 'Living With Data: Understanding people’s knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices and what would make them ‘fair’, with two colleagues from the University of Sheffield: Dr Jo Bates from the Information School and Dr Mark Taylor from the Sheffield Methods Institute. They will be joined by post-doctoral Research Fellow Dr Susan Oman.

The ubiquitous collection and use of digital data is changing people’s lives, positively and negatively. Concern about the harms that might result from new uses of data has led to measures to influence their governance, including the government Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) and the independent Ada Lovelace Institute (Ada). Understanding public views and how data affect people are at the heart of these initiatives, but to date, knowledge about such matters is limited.

Existing surveys and polls focus on single issues or domains and produce only snapshots of attitudes, and qualitative research does not move beyond these snapshots to provide more comprehensive understanding of people’s diverse and complex experiences and perceptions of data and related practices. In short, understanding lacks a robust evidence base.

To ensure that data works ‘for people and society’ (Ada’s mission) and is ‘a force for good’ (a CDEI aim), there is an urgent need for evidence of people’s knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices, in particular what they think constitute ‘fair’ practices, which results from methodologically rigorous inquiry. Living With Data will fill this gap through mixed methods research, combining a survey, focus groups, interviews and a novel ‘data journeys’ approach. It will take everyday, public sector data practices which relate to healthcare, accessing public services and media use as examples and as a starting point for the research. It will share findings with relevant stakeholders, to inform their understanding of public perceptions and, ultimately, their data policies and practices.

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