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Establishing an Independent Data Ethics Committee for Essex

From its inception the Essex Centre for Data Analytics recognised the valuable role an independent data ethics committee could provide in ensuring robust ethical consideration is given to the appropriate and responsible use of data as we strive to get the balance right between protecting, helping and respecting vulnerable people of Essex and their privacy.

The first step on our journey to establishing an independent committee began in 2018 when members from ecda’s three core organisations came together to create a data ethics framework for ecda. The framework was based on the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Data Ethics Framework, and incorporated the ALGOCARE guidance framework, which supports Essex Police to consider some of the legal, practical and ethical issues relating to the use of algorithms in the assessment of harm.

In 2019 terms of reference were drawn up for an Essex Data Ethics Committee (DEC), and a national recruitment campaign went live to bring together a group of volunteers that comprised subject matter experts and residents from Essex communities, that together would provide different perspectives to really get into the details of any issues that could arise from ecda projects and activity.

Nine members were appointed to the DEC in 2020, with a 10th member joining in 2021. The Essex Data Ethics Committee met for the first time in January 2021 to begin drafting a data charter that will promote transparency and accountability and communicate its commitment to Essex residents to support the ethical use of data to deliver services that improve people’s lives.

March 2021 saw members of the DEC come together to review their first data project for ecda, providing independent advice to ecda’s Sponsors Board on a project scope for domestic abuse. Minutes of the meeting and a summary of the DEC’s recommendations are currently being considered by ecda’s Sponsors Board as part of its project governance process.

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