Queen’s University Belfast (UK) Report recommends establishing Northern Ireland’s first public panel on data use

This would see Northern Ireland join Scotland and Wales as devolved jurisdictions of the UK with public panels dedicated to considering questions from their unique national contexts, and comparatively across international perspectives.

The Northern Ireland Public Data Panel (NIPDP) pilot is a partnership initiative between:

The pilot was funded by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK)’s Data and Connectivity National Core Study.

Welcoming the report and its recommendations, Professor Dermot O’Reilly, Director of ADRC NI and Queen’s University Belfast academic, said: “Each data point is an experience or event in the lives of real people, who collectively make up the datasets we use for research and decision-making. It is only right that these people are directly involved in helping everyone who collects and uses data to understand what the public means by public good, and directing how, when and why data should be used throughout Northern Ireland.”

Digital Health and Care Northern Ireland (DHCNI), which leads on data and technology for Northern Ireland’s health and social care system, recognises NIPDP as key regional infrastructure and welcomes the findings of this pilot.

Dr Austin Tanney, Head of Clinical Information for DHCNI, said: “The unique cross-sectoral design of the NIPDP reflects our understanding of the value of potential in public data, and the need for wider public discourse in its use, particular to Northern Ireland and its communities.

“DHCNI recognises NIPDP as key regional infrastructure and welcomes the findings of this pilot to direct its phase one implementation.”

Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, said: “Having better access to data is ever more important for decision-makers in a complex world. Data is key to creating effective solutions to some of society’s most difficult challenges.

“Of course, it’s important that people are confident about how data is gathered and used. So we welcome the Northern Ireland Public Data Panel and its role in building public awareness, understanding and engagement in the use of data for innovation and public benefit. It very much complements our own Citizen Opportunities for Digital Innovation (CODI) initiative, as part of our Smart Belfast programme, which supports people’s understanding and direct involvement in designing innovation projects for our city.”

Employing a service design approach, led by award-winning design consultants Big Motive, the pilot of the NIPDP held extensive practitioner interviews exploring best practice and recommendations, and two deliberative workshops with public participants, which focused on capacity-building, interactive discussions, and questions to gauge knowledge and comfort level with data-driven decisions and innovation.

The report includes recommendations for establishing the NIPDP as an independent initiative working in cross-sectoral partnership, mindful of barriers to participation as well as the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Uniquely, compared to similar initiatives in other places, the delivery of NIPDP will be iterative and co-created with its members.

NIPDP will provide infrastructure for ongoing involvement and engagement of publics in the use and re-use of data for evidence creation in research, policymaking, service evaluation and provisioning.

Funding has been secured to formally establish the NIPDP in its first phase through ADRC NI, who are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Recruitment for the first panel will open in early 2023.