//Smart Data Research Commissioner Reflections: Empowering the Public’s Voice

Smart Data Research Commissioner Reflections: Empowering the Public’s Voice

Author: Joe Cuddeford,  Director of Smart Data Research UK

In an era where data is ubiquitous and AI is revolutionising our lives, Smart Data Research UK is embarking on a journey to involve the public in shaping the future of how data is used for good. We’re excited to announce our collaboration with Sciencewise to initiate a public dialogue on smart data research, gathering diverse perspectives on its potential social and economic benefits.

The role of smart data

Today, almost everything we do leaves a trail of data, from booking travel to online purchases. This treasure trove of ‘smart data’ holds immense potential to improve lives. Smart data includes information from our digital engagements such as apps, social media, digital transactions or smart devices. 

As the national programme for smart data research, our goal is to unlock the power of data to improve lives. When used responsibly, smart data can be a powerful force for good. It can help us understand the relationship between diet and illness, offer insights into the financial well-being of communities in different parts of the UK, and find new ways to live sustainably. As we like to say, ‘Let’s do good things with data!’

Partnerships between industry and researchers

Many datasets are held by private companies. We have seen some great examples of companies working in partnership with research teams to use smart data for research. For instance, a team at the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) used data from major retailers including Asda and Sainsbury’s to test ways to promote healthy and sustainable diets. 

Building these partnerships takes considerable effort and expertise. To support more researchers to use smart data, we are investing £30 million in new data services, offering secure ways for companies to share data for research. Improving access to data is an important first step, accompanied by investment in the capabilities – such as skills, tools and methods – necessary to make better use of these datasets. 

Engaging the public

Smart Data Research UK ensures that our research has public benefits and meets the highest ethical standards.

To earn public trust, we prioritise active public involvement in decisions about data use. So public engagement is central to our mission.

This public dialogue will gather insights into people’s hopes and concerns about smart data research, helping us ensure responsible and trustworthy data use.

Structuring the dialogue

The expertise of our partners at Sciencewise has been vital in preparing for this public dialogue. We have been in regular contact with the team during the commissioning of the research, ensuring we consider every aspect of the process with care. 

Public dialogue specialists, Thinks Insight & Strategy, will facilitate discussions with around 70 members of the public from across the UK, encouraging them to express their views on ethical principles, privacy and the conditions for public trust. These sessions will occur both in-person – in Belfast, Gateshead, Inverness, London and Newport – and online.

Using the outputs

The results of the dialogue will help us understand public perspectives on the use of smart data, including ethical considerations, benefits and risks. Findings will directly shape our data services, ensuring the processes and safeguards they use are aligned with public views on how smart data should be used for public good. 

For further information, please contact us at [email protected].

Updates from Smart Data Research UK can be found here.

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