Celebrating public engagement: Highlights from ADR Northern Ireland

Categories: Blogs, Public engagement, ADR Northern Ireland

Written by Elizabeth Nelson 5 December 2022

Covid-19 vastly increased public awareness of the importance of data. It demonstrated, in a limited way, how data could be used for public good in the tracking, understanding and fighting of Covid-19. However, this work focused on health data, which is one small part of the data landscape. We want to keep the public momentum going behind these data-focused conversations by asking questions such as: 

  • What does this increase in data use mean for public engagement and involvement? 

  • Who defines public good? 

  • Who decides what data is used, by whom, and for what? 

  • How do we design data engagement to address these questions? 

Democratising data  

To address these questions in Northern Ireland, we are setting up the first Northern Ireland Public Data Panel (NIPDP) which was successfully piloted this year. Its purpose will be to provide a forum for the public voice on the use and reuse of public data in research, policymaking, service provision, and other functions. 

The NIPDP will exist to involve publics in all aspects of the use of data for public benefit. This will include testing public assumptions about the use of data in research and digital innovation, developing public data literacy and defining what ‘public good’ means in this field. The panel will also shape the direction of service delivery and policymaking in Northern Ireland. 

Ultimately the panel will be a place where the decisions around how and why data is used can start to become democratised. Collectively, data can tell us a lot about society and help us to develop evidence to address our most pressing issues. We can't, however, forget or fail to provide space for the people whose lives make up the data to be involved in the process. 

Reflections on the NIPDP pilot 

In response to the varied data landscape, NIPDP pilot was delivered as a partnership between data stakeholders ADRC NI (part of ADR Northern Ireland), the Northern Ireland Trusted Research Environment (NITRE), Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office, and Big Motive, a design consultancy. Using a service design approach, we interviewed engagement practitioners to gather best practice information. We then delivered two deliberative public workshops that focused on capacity-building, interactive discussions, and questions to gauge participants’ knowledge and comfort level with various data-driven decisions and innovations. 

A final report of the NIPDP pilot was published earlier this week and includes some of the following recommendations: 

  • The NIPDP should be established to provide a forum for publics to learn about, discuss, and impact the data landscape in Northern Ireland 

  • The NIPDP should ideally be run as a partnership between several different sectors and organisations, and operate independently of any one organisation within the partnership 

  • Different barriers faced by different communities and populations, such as socioeconomic factors, must be recognised and mitigated 

  • Appropriate recruitment measures should be identified to avoid missing ‘under-served’ local communities and centring inclusion and diversity within recruitment efforts 

  • The NIPDP should draw on best practice standards from existing public panels, but also adapt its approach as and where necessary to reflect and respond to the circumstances of Northern Ireland 

  • The NIPDP should be strategically linked to decision-makers so that feedback from members has the best chance of making a positive impact on people’s lives and upholding the goal of democratising data 

  • The delivery of NIPDP should be iterative and co-created with its members. 

Perhaps the most important recommendation is the final one, which stresses that the NIPDP must be continually created and re-created with its members as a driving force. This will be another step forward in democratising data and realising, as much as possible, the involvement of the public in the use of their data. 

We are excited to continue driving forward the formal establishment of the NIPDP and put these recommendations into practice. With funding secured through ADR UK for Phase One, NIPDP will open to recruitment in early 2023, with the first deliberative panel anticipated in late spring. 

We are also committed to working with our partners across ADR UK to embed the learning from NIPDP and to learn from existing expertise. We hope that our work in Northern Ireland will inspire others across the sector to examine how they can support the democratisation of data within their work. 

Find out more about the NIPDP pilot in the full report.

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