Public services

When is it acceptable for government to share personal data?

Data sharing for public benefit
May 2017 - 2019

Local government is uncertain about the way the public balances the benefits and risks inherent in the sharing of personal data.

Involve worked with over 120 stakeholders in six local authorities to develop a framework to help to develop a clearer picture of the acceptability of different data sharing proposals.

Many claims are made about the public benefits which can be gained from sharing personal data between public service providers. However, the term ‘public benefit’ is rarely, if ever, clearly defined. In a context of significant public concern about how data is used – not least in the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica revelations –  this presents public service providers with challenges in deciding when they should share data and for what purposes.

Working with stakeholders in six local authorities, this project aimed to unpack and explore the tensions between reaping benefits from data sharing and the risks of sharing data.

What we're doing

For the first phase of this project, we developed and ran workshops in six local authority areas to explore these issues. Using a mixture of case studies and deliberative techniques we supported participants to unpack and explore the tensions and trade-offs inherent in the sharing of data between different government organisations.

The report published in April 2018 highlights three clear tests emerging from the workshops which will support public service providers to gain the social licence to share and use data more widely.  These are that data sharing should be:

  • Purposeful
  • Proportionate
  • Responsible

A further five key features that a data sharing initiative designed to deliver public benefits should be able to demonstrate were identified. The report uses these features to present a new framework which sets out questions for public service providers to use to assess whether these tests have been met.

The next phase of this work tested the extent to which the framework represents the perspectives of the wider public and began a pilot to design a tool to support local government organisations to develop a sustained conversation with local communities about the acceptability of data sharing for different purposes.

Who's involved

Partner and funders: (First stage) the Carnegie UK Trust, Understanding Patient Data, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Midlands Combined Authority, Leeds City Council, Sheffield City Council, Essex County Council and Melton Mowbray Borough Council.

Participants: 120 stakeholders drawn from both local government organisations including local authorities, the police and fire service, and the local health service, for example, and local civil society groups either delivering public services directly, or advocating on behalf of service users.

We are now testing the distributed dialogue methodology with Camden Council, supported by Wellcome. If you are interested in finding out more, or being involved please contact [email protected]


Header image Blue Coat Photos: Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Listing image Blue Coat Photos: Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)