Data for Public Benefit: Balancing the risks and benefits of data sharing


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.

In our joint report, Data for Public Benefit: Balancing the risks and benefits of data sharing, Involve, Understanding Patient Data and the Carnegie UK Trust, unpack and explore the tensions between reaping  benefits from data sharing and the risks of sharing data.

The report is based on the findings from a series of six workshops in different local authority areas across England. The workshops brought together over 120 professionals from the public and voluntary sectors (working in the fields of housing, criminal justice, health, social care and welfare) to explore how they understand, define and value the public benefits which could be derived from the use of personal data.

Three clear tests emerged from our research for enabling 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

Further five key features that a data sharing initiative designed to deliver public benefits should be able to demonstrate were identified:

  1. That it enables high quality service delivery which produces better outcomes for people, enhancing their wellbeing.
  2. That it delivers positive outcomes for the wider public, not just individuals.
  3. That it uses data in ways that respect the individual, not just in the method of sharing but also in principle.
  4. That it represents, and supports, the effective use of public resources (money, time, staff) to enables the delivery of what people need/want from public services.
  5. That the benefits are tangible, recognised and valued by service providers and the wider public.

The report uses these principles to present a new framework which sets out questions for public service providers to use to assess whether these tests have been met.

The framework aims to provoke discussions among public service providers and provides a platform for engaging the public in an informed and meaningful dialogue on the risks and public benefit of data sharing.

For more information about Involve’s work to support more effective public involvement in the debates about the collection and use of data, see here