An Australian National University scholar plans to use his appointment to the new National Data Advisory Council to advocate on behalf of researchers who use data in ways that contribute to public policy debates.
Associate Professor Nicholas Biddle, Associate Director of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods in the Research School of Social Sciences, was today formally appointed to the council, which will advise the National Data Commissioner for two years.
In its first year, the advisors will inform the National Data Commissioner about the development of the new Data Sharing and Release Act, and also discuss matters including the ethical use of data, community expectations, and industry best practice.
“The ANU has a strong role to play in advocating for a balanced data release and a data policy sharing environment within Australia,” Dr Biddle says.
“There are costs to society of not making data available for researchers and for government. But there is also risks in making data available in a way that is unsafe for the privacy of those who provide their data, or in a way which leads to misleading findings as opposed to informative findings.”
The Centre has a continuing role in advocating for that balance, Dr Biddle says, as it houses the Australian Data Archive, is involved in the collection of a number of Australia’s important public opinion surveys, and has researchers that use a range of survey and administrative datasets.
“As a representative of an organisation that releases data and interacts with other researchers, I’ll be able to share lessons from that,” Dr Biddle says.
“I’ll also suggest ways in which we can better gauge the mood of the public around data release and sharing.
“In the February 2019 ANUpoll, we asked about the role of government and data, and what the public thinks about data governance.
“That survey found while there’s a generally high level of support for government to use and share data, there’s less confidence that the current government has the right safeguards in place, or can be trusted with people’s data.”
The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods also provides training to undergraduates, postgraduates and the general public on research methods.
“There’s a real need for people in the policy and research communities to be able to retrain and keep their skills updated,” he says.
“Not only because this leads to better research, but because people need to be aware of the responsibilities inherent in releasing and collecting data.”
Other members of the Advisory Council include open data consultant Ellen Broad, Paul McCarney, the co-founder of Data Governance Australia, Professor Fiona Stanley AC of the University of Western Australia, Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk, and the Australian Statistician, David Kalisch, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.