Helen Kennedy gives a talk at DWP

Researching data-driven inequalities with the DWP

Staff in Sociological Studies are collaborating with the DWP on a number of projects relating to data-driven inequalities.

Professor Helen Kennedy gave a talk at the DWP at the end of March on this topic, which was attended by senior DWP staff from across the country, amongst others. The talk highlighted how data-driven technologies, automated and algorithmic systems, machine learning and AI are exacerbating inequalities. This problem results from various components of data-driven systems, such as the datasets that are used to train systems, the proxies that are used within them, or the ways that users engage with them. Because of this problem, Helen noted that there is a pressing need to question narratives that see data, AI and machine learning as simply leading to more efficient and cost-effective services. Helen believes that as it stands, the government’s digital strategy conceives of data in commercial terms, as something whose value needs to be unlocked, whereas it also needs to take account of potential harms of ‘datafication’ and develop mechanisms for mitigating these.

To address the need for more understanding of patterns in, consequences of and alternatives to algorithmic bias – one particular kind of data-driven inequality that is of growing concern across government and other in other sectors – PhD student Ruth Beresford is working in partnership with DWP on this topic. Ruth’s PhD is funded by the ESRC Data Analytics and Society Centre for Doctoral Training . Ruth is supervised by Helen Kennedy and Dr Jo Bates from the Information School.

Helen has also recently been appointed to serve on the DWP’s newly formed Methods Advisory Group , which has been set up to assist the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) in providing cross-cutting, independent scientific advice to Ministers and senior officials and in advising on how DWP can use cutting-edge approaches to support decisions and DWP objectives. She joins 11 other senior academics from a broad range of disciplines in this role, which she will take up in April 2019.