DataJam North East: Event Series – #4 Inclusivity

Diverse group of people

Around this time of year, DataJam would usually be running a series of face-to-face events including the DataJam conference – an annual event first held in 2018 – which has had great success in producing tangible outcomes and funded projects for our region.

Although we are not able to hold a physical conference at the new Catalyst building on the Newcastle Helix Site this year, DataJam North East is holding a series of virtual events to explore five key themes:

  • Health

  • Environment

  • Inclusivity

  • Mobility

  • Smart living

We hope that the ideas and projects identified at these remote events will, through broader community engagement in a series of follow-up meetings, be developed into projects which the DataJam community can work on together and be taken forward to the next DataJam conference.

Inclusivity event

The use of digital technologies and the exploitation of data are clearly generating wealth. But is there a danger of society leaving behind those without the ability to access the technology?

Covid has accelerated the take-up of digital technology. This has allowed those with the digital know-how to operate effectively from home. For those without the skills, has it increased their isolation and degraded their opportunities?

The DataJam Inclusivity webinar brought together people from across the data community. They hear about initiatives, actions and challenges. They also discuss how the data community help policymakers better understand and react to these challenges.

Public and private sector participation

More than 64 people from across 25 organisations gathered to hear speakers and panellists from public and private sector organisations, including:

  • Microsoft

  • Open Data Institute

  • Citizens Advice

  • NHS Business Services Authority

  • Government Digital Service

  • Newcastle University

  • The Alan Turing Institute

  • UKRI Not-Equal Network+

    View the full Inclusivity event here

Speed talks – data insights

Exploring equity in digital services

Clara Crivellaro, Research Fellow Newcastle University and Director of UKRI Not-Equal Network+

Kicking off the speed talks, Clara shared some insights on digital inclusion. They came from the engagement activities conducted by her organisation, UKRI Not-Equal Network+. Their non-academic partners also took part.

The Not-Equal Network+ brings together people who want to explore and develop practical collaborative responses. Their aim is to help make the digital society fair and more equitable.

During the pandemic Not-Equal connected with 21 third-sector organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They explored how their digital services had been recently affected.

In her talk, Clara used case studies to explore how the pandemic brought longstanding issues to the forefront. She explored ways that inclusion connected with the question of citizenship and the right to realise benefits. She also looked at the responsibility to care for those the data or digital service doesn’t account for.

Inclusivity and widening access to data science and AI education

Matt Forshaw, Senior Lecturer in Data Science, NU and National Skills Lead, The Alan Turing Institute

Matt explored the issue of ‘The Coded Gaze’ using a US case study by way of example. He framed the problem around increased equity and the need to widen participation in data science and AI.

He highlighted the need for diversity in the teams that are developing, testing and scoping data science and AI systems. This aims to avoid collective blind spots in the way we develop systems.

Matt explained his desire to ensure that data training sets are adequate. This prevents discriminatory AI centred on algorithmic bias from graduates. He was programme lead for much of the postgraduate training in Data Science and AI at Newcastle University.

Matt explored the curriculum steps they are taking and the new project launched at Newcastle, the first cohort of which has been recently welcomed. This brought £10,000 scholarships for people from widening participation backgrounds.

Disabled child

From disability to equality – my inclusion journey

Aaron Prior, Industry Executive for Microsoft UK

Aaron has 25 years of experience as a civil servant, and provided context to our discussions. He explored why and how accessibility is important to us all, especially within the public-sector space.

Aaron had particular insight to share as he was involved at the earliest stage of a creating a move towards what we now term accessibility.

By way of context, he discussed the main legislation in the UK aligned to accessibility and equality. Aaron explained the intention behind the Equality Act, and highlighted the resultant reality. This is a separation between two groups.

One group focuses on technology accessibility compliance. The other group focuses on those who tend to think about equality within an organisation.

Aaron urged the community not to consider accessibility as a one-step journey. We should focus on moving towards an inclusion utopia where accessibility is drawn together with equality. Compliance should also make way for a focus which is inclusive by design.

Cross-government UCD and the data community – why we started it

Jeremy Yun, Senior Designer, Government Digital Service

Jeremy Yun and his colleagues wanted to explore data-driven projects across government. Many didn't have an opportunity for data professionals to come together and share some of their learning and practices.

Jeremy’s talk concerned the new cross-government community, which he and a few others set up. They wanted to improve the relationships between user-centred design professions and data professions, the aim being that they can better meet the needs of people who use government data.

Jeremy outlined the new community’s goals. He explored their plans for developing guiding principles for all professions working on data tools. Teams can use these to make design with data more accessible and user-centred.

As part of this, his talk explored the work across the user-centred design (UCD) community within government. It might be able to help others to understand and support users. It could also embed inclusion into the way we collect data so that we can build a full picture of people’s needs.

Additional links

Demographic data at Citizens Advice, or how we learnt to stop worrying and love the unknown

Taha Abrar, Senior Data Analyst & Co-Chair BAME Workers group, Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice helps millions of people every year, using the data it records to help improve its services and advocate for long-term changes for its clients.

In his talk, Taha explored the impact lockdown had on this data collection. He focused his talk on the changes in demographic data over the course of this year, particularly focusing on ethnicity data.

Taha demonstrated how data from recorded interactions in this period showed a fluctuation. The proportion of incomplete data grew significantly, to nearly half of all interactions.

Incomplete data obscures what Citizens Advice knows about its clients – in this case, clients from BAME communities. Taha went on to share the work Citizens Advice is doing to improve its data and data collection. This is in response to services moving to remote delivery.

How to build an empathy lab with a £10 budget

Andreea Vlad, Senior Service Designer, NHS Business Services Authority

The accessibility regulations came into force for public-sector bodies in September this year. In her talk, Andreea Vlad reflected on the work she and her colleagues undertook. They addressed a gap in understanding and awareness about accessibility within their organisation.

They created an Accessibility Simulation or Empathy Lab for their workplace. They created a space allowing people to experience how people with impairments interact with NHS Business Services Authority:

  • Services

  • Technology

  • Online solutions

Andreea explained the build of the lab, including the resources they sourced to create its features. She provided tips and suggestions for those looking to create a similar space. Andreea reflected that this was a challenging process, but her enthusiasm was infectious.

The plans for the lab will see it expand further with new features.

Woman and man

Monitoring equality in digital public service

Renate Samson, Senior Policy Advisor, Open Data Institute

The report ‘Monitoring Equality in Digital Public Services’ was published by Open Data Institute at the beginning of this year. Renate oversaw the writing of the report and used her talk to highlight the key elements and lessons which stemmed from it.

She began by emphasising the importance of collecting data to understand service users. Knowing who your users are, and more importantly who your users aren’t, is critical.

Without insight into demographics, organisations don’t know who they are providing services to. This means they don’t know if they’re ensuring digital inclusion.

Renate discussed protected characteristics and the collation of data around protected characteristics. There is also a need to find more dynamic ways of going about quantum and qualitative data gathering post pandemic.


In the final section of the event, a panel of speakers drew on the talks and their organisations’ experiences. The panel included:

  • Steve Caughey (NICD)

  • Andreea Vlad (NHS BSA)

  • Renate Samson (ODI)

  • Tom MacInnes (Citizens Advice)

They raised many issues and questions with the community. They looked at whether aspects of inclusivity are missing from data sources collated on behalf of the Regional Coordination Group. They want to understand the impact of Covid and interventions that are in place.

  • Are we missing important information about communities that are suffering more than others in the wake of the pandemic?

  • How should we collect, or not collect, diversity data on anonymous digital services?

  • How do we understand functional and non-functional needs when building services for end users?

Sign about diversity

Follow up

DataJam North East, NICD and ANNE are looking to host more focused meetings to drill down into individual projects.

For more information on follow-up events or to join the ongoing discussions, view our social media channels or contact

DataJam event series

DataJam North East aims to bring people together with a variety of backgrounds from across the public and private sector. We want to encourage discussions about how we can use data and service design to solve real problems that are affecting people in our region.

The National Innovation Centre for Data and the Analyst Network North East support the DataJam event series.

This month, we celebrate the second anniversary of our first annual conference. It welcomed 200 participants to the Newcastle Helix site. Take a look at the videos linked below to see the tangible outcomes and projects which stemmed from our previous conferences.

We are not able to hold a physical conference at the new Catalyst Building on the Newcastle Helix Site this year. DataJam North East is holding a series of virtual events to explore five key themes:

  • Health

  • Environment

  • Inclusivity

  • Mobility

  • Smart living

We hope that the ideas and projects identified at these remote events will turn into projects. The DataJam community can then work on these together ahead of the next DataJam conference which we hope to hold in 2021.

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