A data ethicist can lead an organisation’s work on data ethics, providing research expertise on data ethics, helping others across the organisation to follow best practices in data ethics (e.g. providing training and advice) and raising awareness and space for discussions of ethical issues.
Hiring a data ethicist should not be the first step for organisations, however. This is because a) it risks delegating ethics to a single individual when it should be in the domain of anyone using or managing data and b) there are very few people with the full skillset required to be a data ethicist and simply not enough candidates to meet the needs of councils.
LOTI therefore recommends training all data staff in data ethics and referring to the DDaT Capability Framework, which was developed by the UK Government, before hiring a data ethicist.
On top of this, LOTI employ their own data ethicist, who can step in and provide data ethics support to boroughs on an ongoing ad-hoc basis. To learn more about this, please see the London Data Ethics Service or contact the LOTI Data Ethicist, Sam Nutt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following high-profile cases from the private sector, it is important that a data ethicist’s position and responsibilities are clearly defined. For example, if they have the power to halt projects, they should not report to the same managers as those developing the data projects.
In lieu of boroughs hiring their own data ethicist, LOTI can provide support. Having undertaken training over the past 12 months, a LOTI Researcher is a part-time Data Ethicist who can help boroughs by facilitating data ethics explorations of projects, organisational development and citizen engagement, as well as conducting research on emergent data ethics issues.
LOTI also employ the first ever Data Ethicist in local government in the UK. At a national level, Government departments, including the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice and Office for National Statistics, have hired data ethicists.