Public Values and Technological Change: Mapping how Municipalities Grapple with Data Ethics

Mirko Schaefer, Iris Muis et al.

Assessing a data project with DEDA
Assessing a data project with DEDA

Local governments in the Netherlands are increasingly undertaking data projects for public management. While the emergence of data practices and the application of algorithms for decision making have led to a growing critical commentary, little actual empirical research has been conducted. Therefore, associated professor of Digital Culture Mirko Schaefer and lead operations Iris Muis of the Utrecht Data School, together with Lotje Siffels (Radboud University) and David van den Berg (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), developed a research method that enables researchers to enter organisations not merely as researchers, but also as experts on data ethics.

Data Ethics Decision Aid

Through participatory and ethnographic observation, the DEDA (Data Ethics Decision Aid) gives us special insight into ethics in local government. Where most research has focused on the theoretical aspects of data ethics, the approach of Schaefer, Muis, Siffels and Van den Berg offers a new perspective on data practices, by looking at how data ethics is done in public management. Their research provides insight into the state of data awareness within organisations that are mostly portrayed – within critical data studies – as homogeneous and monolithic entities.

The distinct method developed at Utrecht Data School allows researchers to immerse themselves within organisations and closely observe data practices, discourses on ethics, and how organisations address challenges that arise as a consequence of datafication.