Methods

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We will use a sequential, mixed methods approach in which each stage feeds into subsequent stages: (1) the ‘data journeys’ method; (2) a survey of knowledge and attitudes; and (3) focus groups and interviews. 

Stage 1: Data Journeys (1st Jan – 31 May 2020). 

We will adapt the innovative data journeys approach Bates developed, which produces understanding of specific, concrete data practices by mapping data flows across data infrastructures. The method involves collecting information about data practices and flows in a variety of ways, for example by analysing organisational documents (eg terms and conditions, privacy policies) and interviewing key informants. It does not require access to the sensitive personal data held by our case organisations. This method will be applied to our example cases to map some of the ways in which data are captured, processed, shared and used. Because data practices are dynamic and changing, and those undertaken at the time of using the data journeys method may be discontinued in the future, we will use this method to make visible selected data practices at particular moments in time. This approach will result in information about precisely what happens to data in our three cases, enabling us to identify specific data-related practices in different domains of everyday life and so explore what different people know and feel about them (RQ1). We will do this by presenting the outcomes of our data journeys work in visual and accessible form to participants in the next two stages of the research.

Stage 2: Survey (1st May – 30 Nov 2020) 

We will carry out a survey (n ≈ 2000), building on the evaluation of existing surveys in the planning and review phase and the data journeys work in Stage 1 of the empirical phase. As noted above, we aim to oversample members of disadvantaged populations whose knowledge, experiences and perceptions of data practices are important to our focus on what different people know and feel about data practices. These relate to demographic variables including household income and educational qualifications, race and ethnicity, age, disability, gender and sexuality.  

Survey content will cover two main areas. First, we will gauge knowledge about specific data practices at given moments in time in the three test cases (and possibly in other examples), by soliciting true/false/don’t know responses to factual statements about case organisations’ data practices identified in Stage 1 and drawn from elsewhere, to address the first half of our research question: What do different people know about data-related practices in different domains of everyday life? The survey will also gauge attitudes to factual statements, by soliciting responses on a scale (eg from ‘this concerns me’ through ‘I have no opinion’ to ‘this is a good thing’) to the same factual statements and to alternative data practices. This approach has proven effective in previous research (eg Kennedy et al 2015, Turow et al 2015) and enables us 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? It will also provide some insights in relation to our question What do fair data practices look like, from non-experts’ perspectives?, although this question will be addressed more fully in Stage 3. Open text fields inviting respondents to explain their responses to attitudinal questions will be included in the survey.

Stage 3: Focus groups and interviews (1st October 2020 – 31st May 2021)

We will carry out nationwide focus groups and interviews to explore what people know and feel about data practices in-depth, the types of data practices that they consider to be ‘fair’ and what fairness means to them, building on survey findings. Focus groups will take place across the UK, with groups of people who are already known to each other, to facilitate group meaning-making. Through discussion of individual experiences and perceptions of data practices in focus groups, participants can gain new forms of understanding which may influence their own future data-related practices (Oman 2017). We will also carry out nationwide interviews in order to gather both collectively and individually produced qualitative data and to allow us flexibility if assembling groups is difficult or if matters of privacy are raised by potential participants – these interviews may also produce personal knowledge for participants. 

A cyclical approach will be used to gather qualitative data, which has proven successful on previous research into non-expert perspectives on data-related issues (Kennedy et al 2015):  

  1. We identify what participants already know and feel about data practices in the example cases. 
  2. We explore what they feel about data practices with which they are not already familiar and which they come to know about through their involvement in the research. 
  3. We present participants with and gauge attitudes to purportedly ‘fairer’ future data practices. 

Focus groups and interviews will focus 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?