LOTI to develop data ethics governance approach for London

The technology and innovation office is working on the elements needed to ensure ethical standards in data projects in the capital’s boroughs

The London Office for Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has started work with local authorities across the capital to ensure ethics are built into data projects.

Under the initiative, LOTI is looking at the right tools, processes, engagement approaches and governance structures boroughs need to have in place to ensure data projects are conducted in an ethical manner.

This follows previous work on ethics whereby the organisation led by Eddie Copeland teamed up with Camden Council on an engagement process to design a data charter with residents.

In addition, LOTI also carried out research on data ethics approaches in place at Transport for London, the Essex Centre for Data Analytics and Brent Council, whereby organisations sought advice on how to understand the concept of data ethics and how to apply it operationally.

“We’ll be conducting interviews across the public sector in the UK and beyond and using these insights to develop a reference data ethics process for London that can be tested with boroughs,” Copeland wrote in a blog post, adding that interviews are taking place with a view to producing a draft on the process before Christmas.

The work on data ethics is part of the initiatives led by LOTI around helping boroughs use data to make make better decisions, drive service improvements and better serve residents in a legal, ethical and transparent way.

In that context, the need for a robust process for data ethics has emerged, and the technology and innovation office is designing an approach that can be used by boroughs individually and in collaborative projects.

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To support local authorities seeking to advance their data ethics setup, LOTI has made a series of resources available, including a detailed breakdown of the process at Brent Council, as well as other case studies including an example of a multi-organisation project. A data ethics process flow, a checklist of steps to take when thinking of data ethics, has also been published.

Earlier in 2021, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) warned that local authorities are in in danger of losing momentum in data work without central government investment and support for data skills development.

Based on analysis around the use of data in local government during Covid-19, the CDEI noted that data and data-driven technologies were key to the response to the crisis, and that councils need support in retaining and building on efforts to use data effectively.

According to the report, local authorities have to contend with barriers to data-driven innovation including skills gaps, poor data quality, lack of legal clarity and funding challenges.

The CDEI said it would “continue to explore ways of helping local authorities to maximise the data at their disposal” and in doing so it would “seek to highlight the best practice that is often hidden below the surface, as well as to draw in insights and lessons from other sectors”, the report noted in its conclusion.

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