What we did

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We used a sequential, mixed methods approach to research people’s thoughts and feelings about data uses and how they could be improved. Each stage fed into subsequent stages. Click on the stage to find out more.

  1. Literature and evidence review;
  2. Adapting ‘data journeys’;
  3. Survey of knowledge and attitudes;
  4. Focus groups and interviews

1: Literature and evidence review (Oct 2019 – May 2020). 

We reviewed available academic and grey literature published between 2015 and the end of 2019 which reports empirical research on awareness and perceptions of data uses. We did this to help us answer our own research questions: What do different people know and feel about specific data-related practices in different domains of everyday life? (RQ1 )and What do fair data practices look like, from non-experts’ perspectives? (RQ2). The review informed the empirical research we undertook in the next stages of our research. The review involved:

  • systematic search of online citation databases, focussing on Web of Science. We searched using multiple keywords relating to how people feel about data practices and what happens to their personal data.
  • manual search that began with grey and academic literature with which we were already familiar, and then snowballing out (eg searching bibliographies, relevant websites, observing Twitter discussions and building on word-of-mouth recommendations).

For the review, we:

  • synthesised existing evidence and evaluated whether patterns or generalizable findings emerge from existing research;
  • assessed the claims that are made on the basis of existing research;
  • reviewed methods, analyses and reliability of findings;  
  • identified limitations and gaps in the existing research that future research can address. 

We wrote about what we did and what we found in a long report and short, accessible summary Links to both of these documents and a summary of what we found are on this page.

2: Adapting data journeys (March – July 2020). 

We adapted the innovative data journeys approach LWD team member Jo Bates (2016) developed, to understand specific, concrete data practices. This involved collecting information about data practices in a variety of ways, for example by analysing organisational documents (eg terms and conditions, privacy policies) and interviewing key informants. It did not require access to the sensitive personal data. This method was applied to example data uses in partner organisations the DWP and BBC, and also to examples from the NHS. Because data practices are dynamic and changing, and the examples on which we focused may be discontinued in the future, we will use this method to make visible selected data practices at particular moments in time. This approach resulted in information about what happens to data in our three cases, enabling us to identify specific data-related practices in different domains of everyday life and to then explore what different people know and feel about them. We produced visual representations of these data uses, for discussion in our interviews and focus groups (stage 4).

3: Surveys (October 2020 & October 2021) 

We carried out a survey in October 2020, with 2000 respondents, that built on the work done in stages 1 and 2. We oversampled members of disadvantaged groups, relating to household income, educational qualifications, race and ethnicity, age, disability, gender and sexuality. We did this because their knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices were important to our focus on what different people know and feel about data practices.  

In the survey, we gauged knowledge about specific data practices. This addressed the first half of our research question: What do different people know about data-related practices in different domains of everyday life? The survey also gauged attitudes to address the second half of our research question: What do different people feel about specific data-related practices in different domains of everyday life? The survey also provided insights in relation to our question What do fair data practices look like, from non-experts’ perspectives?, although this question was addressed more fully in Stage 4. Open text fields inviting respondents to explain their responses to attitudinal questions were included in the survey.

A full report of our findings, a summary of our findings and original survey questions are all available from this page.

One of our main survey findings was that context is a defining factor when it comes to public attitudes to data uses – data uses in some contexts are more concerning than others. Because of this, and because our first survey was carried out during the coronavirus pandemic, we ran the survey for a second time at the end of 2021, to explore if views about data uses had changed when the height of the pandemic was over. We will report what we found soon.

4: Focus groups and interviews (October 2020 – July 2021)

We carried out nationwide focus groups and interviews to explore what people know and feel about data practices, the types of data practices that they consider to be ‘fair’ and what fairness means to them, building on the survey findings. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most focus groups and interviews took place online or over the phone. We thought carefully about how to carry out virtual interviews without excluding certain groups or people, and we produced this resource for online qualitative research that is senstitive to inequalities.

Focus groups took place with groups of people across the UK who were already known to each other, to facilitate group meaning-making. We also carried out interviews, in order to gather both collectively and individually produced qualitative data and to allow us flexibility when assembling groups proved difficult or matters of privacy were raised by potential participants. Focus groups and interviews focused on the second part of the question: What do different people feel about specific data-related practices in different domains of everyday life? and our second question: What do fair data practices look like, from non-experts’ perspectives? 

  • We carried out 52 focus groups and interviews with 112 participants. Focus groups ranged from 2-9 people.
  • 50 out of the 52 focus groups and interviews happened remotely. Most of these used a virtual video conferencing platform, usually Google Meets, though some were phone calls. Two focus groups were conducted face to face in July 2021. 
  • Participants completed online consent forms and an online demographic survey prior to talking to us. 
  • Every focus group or interview involved showing participants examples of data practices. Participants were shown two or three examples which were grouped into the following themes: Data matching; Data sharing and reuse; Data ownership and control; Algorithmic processes.

We carried out extensive analysis on our data in an iterative process through which we identified core topics and themes. At the time of writing in March 2022, we are writing up our findings.