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Transparency and trust

Establishing the Essex Centre for Data Analytics is proving an incredible journey for Essex Police, Essex County Council and the University of Essex.

Success is a journey, not a destination. The Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ecda) offers the principal partners a fantastic opportunity to learn, grow, and share for social good; to create change across their organisations and the system; and more significantly to enable data driven insight to inform the decisions we make about the future of our county.

Reducing harm; providing better services to our communities; protecting the most vulnerable people in Essex; data is very powerful when combined with the lived experience, and the opportunities to use data for good are exciting when data is shared and used ethically.

Jen Housego, Head of Digital Change, Essex Police, shares ecda’s values and approach to unlocking the potential of data to protect the most vulnerable and shape places at the earliest opportunity by developing an integrated hub for the collation and sharing of data between multiple agencies.

“Part of my role is to support ecda to achieve its ambitions to bring people together to share data and generate new insight that will inform how we plan our future together, within a robust ethical framework and providing opportunities for us to ensure that we are considering the ethical aspects of our work and the individual projects we undertake.

The first step on the journey has been to bring together a working group, comprised of members with skills and expertise from the three core ecda organisation, to create a data ethics framework for ecda. The first meeting of the group took place in December 2018, and the framework was completed in February and is being used and tested by the partners. The framework is based on the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Data Ethics Framework, and that complied by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The ecda framework also incorporates the ALGOCARE guidance framework, which can be used to help Essex Police to consider some of the legal, practical and ethical issues relating to the use of algorithms in the assessment of harm.

The next stage has been to draft the terms of reference for an ecda Data Ethics Committee, which will be recruited later this year and will help us ensure we take the views of different groups into account. The group will comprise both subject matter experts, and lay members, drawn from Essex communities and will provide different perspectives to really get into the details of any issues that could arise from ecda projects and activity. That external check and challenge is very important to ecda as we strive to get the balance right between protecting and helping the people of Essex and their privacy.

ecda is committed to being open and transparent in its use of data and in addition to the recruitment of individuals to the Data Ethics Committee it is also transparent in its approach. From our early work on supporting children to start school, ecda has engaged with local community groups on its intention to share anonymised data to generate insight. It has matched the insight with what communities have told us about their experiences of living in a place, and it has provided the insight to those community groups, together with support and funding, to empower them to decide and design the services they need most.

At the heart of ecda’s philosophy is data AND people, and how combining the two can create action to improve lives, reduce risk and enable us to plan our future together.”