National and local government departments and services collect and hold information about families, such as taxation, medical records, pupil data, police records. These different data sources can be linked together and used operationally through the application of algorithms to identify individual families for service intervention, with data linkage and analysis carried out in-house or outsourced to private data analytic companies.
On the one hand, data linkage and analytics offer more efficient public services based on predictive risk modelling to pre-empt problems, and targeting for enhanced outcomes. On the other hand, issues have been raised about data security, consent, deterring parents from using services, and the extent of public acceptance and trust – known as social licence.
Gap in knowledge
This study fills a vital gap in knowledge about the dynamics of social licence and trust for operational data linkage and analytics among parents of dependent children, in a context where policy developments, and data linkage and analytics practices to inform services interventions may be moving ahead of public knowledge and consent.
It seeks to:
1. Identify rationales for data linkage and analytics, predictive risk modelling, and family intervention by analysing the content of reports and discussions by national and local government, data analytic companies, charities and advocacy groups, parenting sites, and mainstream media, reports and discussions.
2. Ascertain the consensus among parents about what is acceptable or unacceptable in relation to data linkage and analytics as a basis for risk modelling and intervention in family lives, and any differences between parents from different social groups (e.g. gender, social class, ethnicity) in social licence and trust, through a survey of c. 1000 parents of dependent children.
3. Examine how different social groups of parents articulate and negotiate their perspectives on operational data linkage and analytics, predictive risk modelling, and potential benefits or harms through holding discussions with up to five groups each made up of, for example, mothers or fathers, minority ethnic parents, affluent or disadvantaged parents, urban or rural residents.
4. Explore the specific views and experiences of parents who are engaging with family service interventions on the data held about them, and the parameters of their social licence and bases for trust in operational data linkage and analytics, through individual interviews with up to 20 of them.
Understanding parental social licence
The research intends to provide a comprehensive, dynamic and multifaceted understanding of parental social licence for and trust in operational data linkage and analytics that can inform public understanding, policy development, and practices in the field of family intervention.
Funding and ethics
This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under grant number ES/T001623/1. The ESRC supports independent, high quality research. The researchers’ submitted a funding application for a research project that they thought was important, under the ESRC’s competitive open research scheme, and were successful.
Our research team is located in universities that have a strong commitment to research integrity and convene research ethics committees to review and approve ethical practice for all elements of research projects.
- Read the University of Southampton’s ethics policy
- Read the University of Westminster’s ethics policy
Each stage of the research that involves data collection (survey, group interviews, individual interviews) will go through our universities’ ethical review processes. Key concerns for us are that all participants in our research are fully informed about the purpose and use of participation, that we maintain participants’ anonymity and confidentiality, and that we provide participants with information about support if they need it.