Tim Davies

Tim Davies

Tim Davies

Research team news

The big news this week has been the tripling in size of the research team! Obioma Egemonye and Maria Luciano have joined the team as part-time Research Associates, and have been getting stuck in right away to work on case study development, and our new project on Insight Infrastructures with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

You’ll be hearing more from Obioma and Maria in their weeknotes soon - but I’m already valuing the expanded capacity, and the new perspectives brought to the team.

In other quickfire news from the last few weeks:

  • My paper ‘Data Governance and the Datasphere’ written as part of a Datasphere Initiative fellowship, was launched at the Internet Governance Forum on Thursday. The paper takes a bibliometric look at work published on data governance.
  • I’ve been taking part in a series of workshops around ‘rebooting’ the UK Open Government Network, both drawing on past work on this - and thinking about where data governance might fit into future open government agendas.
  • We had the first of our ‘Connected Conversation’ web-meetings this week, looking at ‘Data and AI regulation around the world’. We had a fantastic group of experts providing input from their national or regional contexts, and I’ll be writing up notes into a blog post next week.

Justice Data Matters: research, consultation and participation

We’re almost finished with our evaluation report of the Justice Data Matters project (and will start soon on a summary version to publish). One theme I’ve explored in the write-up is the distinction between participatory practice and others forms of public input into policy making or implementation.

In the report we include the following table, that tries to draw a distinction between consultation, user research and public attitudes research (all of which are reasonably widely used in the justice sector), and deliberative engagement, which we believe is an important component of meaningful community voice in data governance processes, yet less explored.

Method Description

Public consultation is a structured process inviting (usually written) submissions from individuals and organisations in response to a set of questions or policy proposals set out by the government.

Consultation asks: What do key stakeholders think about possible policy reforms?

Government departments run regular consultations on policy proposals, changes and major projects. A review of Ministry of Justice consultations listed online does not surface any recent consultations that have addressed issues of data governance.

User Research

User experience research uses various methods including interviews, surveys and user-observation, often in one-to-one settings, to understand how the ‘target users’ of a platform or service engage with it. It may focus in particular on the ‘pain points’ of a particular design, and how they can be overcome.

User research asks: How can a system, process or platform be designed to work better for target users?

MOJ and HMCTS regularly commission user research, and have in-house user research teams. The National Archives use user research to understand how to meet the needs of various Find Case Law service stakeholders.

Public attitudes / opinion research

Public attitude or opinion research uses surveys, interviews and other methods to understand the views, attitudes or opinions of the public on a given topic, or in relation to particular policy proposals and changes.

Public opinion research asks: To what extent are the public supportive or concerned about a general policy idea?

MOJ and HMCTS regularly commission public attitudes research, although we could not locate any prior exercises focussed on justice data. The Centre for Digital Ethics and AI commission a tracker survey on public attitudes to data and AI, which provides general headlines on public attitudes towards public data governance.

Deliberative engagement

Deliberative engagement exercises generally bring together a mini-public (a broadly representative group of members of the public), and combine expert input, facilitated process, and time for discussion, to allow exploration of complex or contentious issues. This can be used to shape recommendations and decisions, or to develop a more nuanced understanding of public opinions. Deliberative models include public dialogue, citizens juries and citizens assemblies.

Deliberative engagement asks: What considered opinions do members of the public have on the details of a policy proposal?

The Justice Data Matters project on court data combined polling and public dialogue methods, and is, to our knowledge, the first substantial dialogue to look at justice data governance in the UK.

I also wanted to flag the Open Government Partnership guide to designing a public deliberation process, which we used to support process evaluation of Justice Data Matters, in particular in thinking about the stages for a dialogue of defining a problem, exploring solutions, and validating findings, with a need to involve decision-making stakeholders at each stage.

(Data) governance in the fediverse

I joined the migration from Twitter over to Mastodon/the fediverse last week (you’ll find me at https://social.coop/@timdavies), and we had a couple of conversations in the team about a Connected by Data presence on Mastadon/ActivityPub networks (coming soon!).

For the uninitiated, ActivityPub is an open protocol that supports ‘federated social media’, with the most prominent ‘twitter replacement’ being Mastodon. Unlike Twitter, which was managed by a single company, with federated social media, you have to choose which server hosts your account (much like with choosing an e-mail provider), and servers can have distinct policies, thematic focus, and ways of operating.

With the rapid growth of the fediverse (the network of federated social media servers and accounts), there’s a growing conversation about governance: from how to manage content moderation decisions, to the responsibility of server hosts to abide by various content and data related regulations. It feels like this might create some interesting opportunities to think both critically and practically about community-led, collective and participatory governance.

The instance I use, social.coop, has been exploring some of these issues since it was set up in 2017. A number of social.coop volunteers recently wrote up a set of reflections on creating a democratic fediverse, and there’s an active set of debates going on over all manner of server policy decisions, including questions of access to bulk data (scraped) from the instance that touch upon questions of community consent, or refusal of data collection.

I also spotted a number of discussions around the need for server data protection policies, including one pointing to this ‘policy generator’ which provides a bare-bones data protection policy. What might it look like to have policy generators that also provide an option to adopt more participatory data governance approaches? Or that point to a range of options for involving community in shaping instance policies and practices?

I’m mostly feeling overwhelmed by the return of, what feels at least for the moment, like a constructive and generative social media space. But hoping to pull at some of these threads in some way in the coming weeks.

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