Enabling ethically appropriate research: the Centre for Applied Data Ethics' Self-Assessment Tool
30 March 2022
In this blog, ADR UK Director Dr Emma Gordon discusses the benefits of a tool to support researchers in reviewing the ethics of their projects.
Today marks the launch of the UK Statistics Authority’s (UKSA’s) Centre for Applied Data Ethics’ revised ethics self-assessment tool. The original version of this tool has already been used successfully hundreds of times to support ethical decision-making around the use of data, by:
- offering analysts an easy-to-use framework to review the ethics of research projects throughout the research cycle; and,
- enabling efficient identification of ethical risks existent within a project.
The revisions follow a period of engagement and consultation with analysts across the research community to ensure that the revised tool serves their needs in even more efficient and effective ways.
As a member of the UKSA’s Research Accreditation Panel, which is responsible for overseeing the accreditation of research projects accessing data under the Digital Economy Act Research powers, I have seen first-hand the value of the ethics self-assessment tool in enabling researchers to robustly assess the ethics of their research, which helps open up access to public authority data for public good research.
The UKSA launched the Centre for Applied Data Ethics in February 2021 to support the provision of world-class applied practical ethics advice, support and services for researchers, not just within government, but across the whole statistical system. As a member of the UKSA’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics’ Advisory Committee, I have been pleased to see the impact that the Centre has made over the last year. In particular, they have published a range of specific applied data ethics guidance to support researchers in demonstrating the ethical propriety and public good of their work. To me, robust and visible ethical consideration of public good research is vital in demonstrating to the public that the research community is a responsible and trusted user of public data. The UKSA’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics’ launch of this improved ethics self-assessment tool builds upon this work to date, by providing an open-source resource to the research community that allows for efficient and robust ethical consideration of research.
The approach that the UKSA’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics took in redeveloping this tool, by seeking the input of the user community across various stages of iteration, gives me confidence that this will continue to be a valuable resource for the research community that supports the delivery of trusted and robust public good research. To cite a handful of the key changes, the improved ethics self-assessment tool is:
- more intuitive by making clear to users areas of ethical risk within their research, through use of embedded ethical risk statements;
- quicker and easier to complete as guidance on use is available at source; and,
- more user-friendly due to usability and accessibility improvements.
The UKSA’s Centre for Applied Data Ethics offers invaluable user support services that help analysts across the research community efficiently identify and mitigate against ethical risks. This relaunch of the ethics self-assessment tool demonstrates the Centre’s continued commitment to helping the research community consider data ethics by design. It is great to see that these services and resources are freely available across the research community so that analysts beyond government can benefit from them.
This blog has also been published on the UK Statistics Authority website.