Building on the success of the ADRN public dialogues, in 2015 the ESRC commissioned Hopkins Van Mil to carry out public dialogues on the (re)use of private sector data for social research.

The purpose of these dialogues was to inform the work of the Consumer Data Research Centre, the Urban Big Data Centre and the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre. The three Data Research Centres aim to enable safe access to and use of private sector data for innovative and high quality social research of societal benefit.

The Public Dialogues were overseen by a Steering Committee chaired by Simon Briscoe, the Deputy Chair of the Data and Infrastructure Strategic Advisory Committee to the three Data Research Centres and the UK Data Service.

Aims of the Dialogues

The aims of the public dialogues were:

  • to explore public views and related concerns about key aspects of the Data Research Centres’ work towards enabling access to private sector data for social research
  • to start creating a language around private sector data and access to and use of these for research purposes that is meaningful and accessible to the public.


Between January and March 2015, a total of 62 members of the public in three different locations (London, Essex and Glasgow) met twice. They were from various demographic groups and had diverse initial views on personal data collection prior to the dialogues.

At the start the public was asked to reflect on their own understanding of big data, generating data on a routine basis, the role of the private sector in the process and then gradually over the course of the dialogues and with the help of experts they were guided through the current and potential research work of the Centres and the safeguards in place to protect people’s information and data in the process.


Overall, the dialogue demonstrated that there is wide public support for the use and re-use of private sector data for social research. Access to information about the Data Centre processes as the dialogue unfolded alleviated a lot of the concerns people had initially around security and privacy. An increased appreciation of the benefits of social research for everyone in society meant that a trade-off took place between concerns and perceived risks of the use of private sector data in favour of research that leads to improvements in policy and services.

The final report on the findings of the Public Dialogues and its associated technical report can be downloaded below.

Responses from the data research centres

Next steps

The ESRC intends to work with the three Data Research Centres to take forward the findings and recommendations of the public dialogues to improve communication on the work that they do with private sector data for social research that can ultimately benefit society.