This report highlights the findings from a literature review commissioned by the Scottish Government on public engagement regarding the use of public sector data by or with the private sector over the last 10 years both in the UK and internationally. Unlocking the full value of Scotland’s public sector data for public benefit is conditional upon public sector organisations’ ability to make their data accessible and useable by third parties, including private sector organisations, in ways that are publicly acceptable and retain public trust.
The aim of this review is to inform the design of a Scottish Government programme of public engagement in this area. We used an adapted systematic review and thematic synthesis approach of academic and grey literature to answer the following questions:
- What public engagement has been undertaken regarding the use of public sector data by or with the private sector?
- What methods were used?
- What were the results?
Forty-four papers were included in the review, published after 2010 and a thematic synthesis was conducted of the reported findings. We identified the kinds of public engagement and research methods that have been used in this area; these were mostly deliberative, dialogic and qualitative. We generated eight key themes from across the results documented in the literature.
Our key findings are:
- Deliberative and dialogue based qualitative public engagement and research methods are effective in identifying informed and considered public views on private sector use of public sector data, and they can enable the construction of a public consensus that can be used to inform decision making.
- There is a low level of public awareness and understanding of private sector access to public sector data and how this data is used. Publics tend to express negative ‘gut reactions’ towards the topic, but when provided with more information and opportunities to reflect on or deliberate it, they often change their minds.
- There is widespread conditional acceptance of private sector use of public sector data especially among informed publics. Acceptability is most conditioned by the rationales for the data use, but also by the type of data being used and the type of the private sector organisation using it. Public benefit is the primary driver of acceptability and commercial gain or private profit the primary driver of unacceptability.
- Demonstratable public benefit is the most prevalent consideration that publics have around private sector access to and use of public sector data. While the definition and scope of ‘public benefit’ is open and contested, publics want to see evidence that public benefit of some kind is the primary driver of public sector data access, that it can actually be achieved, and that it outweighs any possible private benefits.
- Publics want to see the development of equitable benefit-sharing models for collaborations or partnerships between private and public sector organisations, as they expect benefits – including profits – to be returned to publics and reinvested into the public sector.
- Public trust and distrust are key factors around private sector access to public sector data. While publics tend to be relatively distrustful of private sector organisations, they generally have a high level of trust in the public sector, and this is shaped by perceptions that the public sector is acting for public benefit whereas the private sector is motived by private interests. Publics are more trusting of private sector uses of public sector data when public sector organisations retain control over the data during collaborations with the private sector.
- Publics expect to see stringent oversight, governance, and safeguard arrangements around private sector use of public sector data, especially concerning an oversight or governance body, transparency and accountability processes, and arrangements for data security and safety, consent, and confidentiality. However, the precise nature of what the safeguards should be is contested, and it may be that the nature of the safeguards is less important than the fact that effective safeguards exist.
- Publics want there to be public involvement or engagement processes and activities around private sector use of public sector data, but the precise nature of what this should look like, who should be involved and in what ways is contested – while some want to be actively involved in decision making, others prefer more passive forms of communication and information distribution, and proportionality matters.
- There is no singular ‘public perspective’ on private sector use of public sector data, but rather, while overarching patterns can be identified, publics are plural, and individuals’ views are shaped by a diverse range of intersecting demographic and attitudinal variables.
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