Award-winning project could lead to better information sharing to protect residents

  • Date

    Thu 10 Jun 21

Alejandro Quiroz-Flores

A project to explore what citizen’s feel about public authorities sharing their data, has won a national local government award

The research, carried out with residents during March to November 2020, concluded people are relatively open to the idea of data sharing, when it is explained to them, but have some concerns that need addressing.

Joining information held by public sector organisations has significant potential to support early intervention and prevent people from reaching crisis, but until now it has been largely assumed people would be reluctant to have their data shared.

The Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ecda), a partnership between Essex County Council, Essex Police and the University of Essex, set out to discover whether this was in fact the case.

Dr Alejandro Quiroz Flores, Chief Scientific Adviser for the University, said: “One of the pillars of the Essex Centre for Data Analytics is people. Our data work informs action that will improve services for everyone in Essex.

“At the same time, we are the first office of data analytics in the country that has reached out to the community to know more about our residents’ attitudes towards data and data sharing, and their views of privacy. The views of residents are essential to our work and I am pleased that our efforts to listen to the people of Essex are being rewarded with this prestigious award.” 

Clare McLean, from ecda, added: “The conversations held with residents as part of this research provided valuable insight, and greater understanding of peoples attitudes and beliefs around data sharing, and highlighted that fear has been inhibiting collaboration between the public sector and citizens, fear based on misconceptions stemming from a lack of opportunity and clarity in discussing data.” 

Those that took part in the research clearly articulated the minimum standards and conditions they expected to be in place to guide data joining and analytics between public sector organisations. People were generally willing to look for solutions that enabled data joining and analytics to be carried out in a safe and secure way that protected their personal rights.

The research has informed a set of practical recommendations which have shaped how ecda is collaborating with citizens, including creating roles for residents to be a part of the work, making adjustments to ecda practices and policies to provide greater reassurance, and communicating the measures ecda is taking to protect people's rights, and handle data securely and ethically.

The project was awarded the Best Use of Local Area Research award by LARIA - Local Area Research and Intelligence Association. The LARIA Awards are specifically designed to showcase best practice with award winners demonstrating “excellence in research and analysis that is making a real difference to the people they serve."