The May issue of Admap puts the spotlight on data ethics. Danny McCarthy from the Co-op explains the organisation’s work with the Open Data Institute (ODI) which is helping them progress against their vision of being ‘Trusted with Data’.

The Co-op is one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, owned by millions of members. They’re the UK’s fifth biggest retailer with more than 2,500 local, convenience and medium-sized stores, are the UK’s number 1 funeral services provider, a major general insurer and operate a growing legal services business.

Trusted with data

In today’s data-driven world, data is increasingly a core part of business infrastructure and performance and at the Co-op we want to use data to fuel the whole organisation, but at the same time we know that consumers are increasingly aware about the data held about them and how it can be used, so the concept of ‘trust’ is quickly becoming the new currency. If organisations fail to secure and retain consumer trust, organisations will be adversely impacted.

The Co-op are in partnership with the Open Data Institute (ODI), who are supporting the Co-op’s vision of being ‘Trusted with data’. Co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt, the ODI wants to show the value of open data, and to advocate for the innovative use of open data to affect positive change across the globe.

They describe the rapidly emerging area of Data Ethics as “a branch of ethics that evaluates data practices with the potential to adversely impact on people and society – in data collection, sharing and use. Increasingly, those collecting, sharing and working with data are exploring the ethics of their practices and, in some cases, being forced to confront those ethics in the face of public criticism. A failure to handle data ethically can harmfully impact people and lead to a loss of trust in projects, products or organisations”.

As such, codes of data ethics are being developed across sectors, ethics training is becoming more common and debates are accelerating on issues like the monetisation of personal data, bias in data sources and algorithms, and the consequences of under-representation in data”.

Data ethics canvas

Data is a broad topic for everybody in any organisation to engage in and at the Co-op we’ve been making our policies, standards and processes understandable and approachable - particularly for those working in agile teams. So, in addition to training and awareness, we have also been looking at ways to provide practical help and support to our colleagues on Data Ethics.

We’ve been pioneering an approach for Data Ethics in the design of new products and services and based on their success have been openly sharing this to other co-operatives, and other data management peers in the public, private and third sectors. Our data governance team has been working in collaboration with the Open Data Institute (ODI) to develop a Co-op iteration of the ODI’s data ethics canvas.

We have successfully trialled and implemented the Data Ethics Canvas tool within multi-disciplinary teams who are iteratively designing and building digital products and services, a notoriously difficult process to govern. This tool frames 15 topics, outlined in the image below, that are discussed in a workshop with the ‘scrum team’ and data management, protection and information security specialists.

Source: Open Data Institute

We’ve made great progress using this tool and the feedback gathered so far from internal stakeholders has been fantastic. The use of this tool in an open workshop format has been described as ‘cathartic’ – ensuring all concerns were aired and allowing the project team to move forward at pace with confidence that they’re making the right decisions for the Co-op members, colleagues and communities. The internal demand has been so significant, that we developed a user guide to train more people so it can be rolled out more broadly at the Co-op, and we will be sharing our experiences with the ODI and their members in May 2019 and into future iterations of the canvas later this year.

Balancing value opportunities against risk

The outcome for the Co-op is that digital products & services have been designed with appropriate consideration of data ethics. It also empowers teams to understand what actions need to be taken so that they can make sensible decisions, balancing the value opportunities against risk appetite. The Co-op are now increasing the breadth of where this is applied to build on this success.

Looking ahead, a clear message is starting to emerge from regulatory bodies: the ethical use of data will become a growing priority and focus especially when considered with the perspective that ‘trust is the new currency’ – data ethics isn’t going away.

The Co-op will continue to take this seriously and will continue to work in the open to share our progress and experiences to benefit others.