Conference paper Open Access

When the chips come out: is our public research infrastructure fit for the future?

Persson, Jen

Opportunities for research using more population-wide datasets are within sight in new UK and EU legal frameworks, but inconsistent policy and practices continue to jeopardise data access and public benefit. Failure to use data in ways the public expect, to safeguard data adequately, and to engage with concerns over consent and confidentiality beset plans  and led to a breakdown in public trust in 2014. These effects have disrupted public interest research since.  To avert similar contagion in other areas of administrative data, repeating mistakes must be avoided.  Policy decisions are incrementally expanding children’s data collection and use, linking health with education data, and wider data sets. Different pathways provide access to data to a wide variety of third parties.  Exploring public awareness of confidential pupil data in the Department for Education’s (DfE) 20m strong National Pupil Database (NPD) we consider research infrastructure in England — data access routes and users, and its foundation on public trust and legislation. We gathered qualitative responses from 75 schools, 100 education practitioners, 100 parents of children aged 2-19, and from 25 students aged under thirty-five. We found familiarity with school census collection, but none with where data goes once it leaves local systems. People were surprised by the release of sensitive identifiable data to third parties, and that journalists, charities and commercial users received data since 2012. Change is needed from policy makers and practitioners making our infrastructure fit for data, and a smart future. 

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