Lina Dencik, Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University
Future Generations Commissioner
The Future Generations Act (FGA) was implemented in 2015 with the aim to advance social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being through the public sector. The project explores the possibilities for advancing data justice in the context of the FGA, focusing on three strategic areas:
- Models of public engagement (e.g citizen juries, task forces)
- Public procurement processes (e.g. impact assessments, expert consultations)
- Data governance frameworks (e.g. data trusts, public ownership)
The Future Generations Act (FGA) and data justice
The project did a scoping exercise to identify possible strategic areas at the intersection of the FGA and data justice, and a literature review of policy documents and academic publications was conducted.
Reports and other materials from the Future Generations Commissioner’s website were also analysed to establish key stakeholders, and shortlist of initial expert interviewees was also selected from across Welsh public sector, central and local government, civil society and academia.
A virtual policy hacking workshop was organised and over forty individuals were invited.
The project found a number of research findings including:
- Within the Future Generations (Wales) Act digital technologies are tools for “future proofing” and “future readiness”
- Public procurement in line with the Future Generations (Wales) Act provides avenues for social value but this is not yet being widely applied to digital procurement
- The Involvement Way of Working is advancing diversity and inclusion, but in digital contexts often translates into user-centred design
- Understandings of A More Equal Wales in relation to digital technology are mediated by a digital inclusion agenda
- Data collection and sharing require more public dialogue and citizen involvement
- From consultation to co-production: distinguishing between token and meaningful public engagement
The Future Generations (Wales) Act provides both an avenue for advancing data justice as well as being a target for ensuring greater civic participation in relation to data-driven innovation in the public sector.
They experienced great engagement with the project from policy makers and professionals in the Welsh Government both within and beyond the Future Generations Commissioner’s Office. However, whilst there may be a will to advance data justice, there are historical and structural barriers in place. In particular, the overriding incentive structure is to implement data-driven innovation for perceived efficiency and financial gain.
The project illustrated that this is a period of experimentation with data-driven innovation as well as public engagement and governance that could potentially facilitate radical intervention. However, this requires general empowerment of the public sector vis-à-vis industry.
The research indicates a discrepancy between the vision of the Future Generations (Wales) Act and how it is being implemented in practice. This goes beyond questions of digital services and is an issue with procurement and public engagement more broadly.
Advancing real change in how data-driven technologies are understood, pursued, designed, implemented and used in the public sector requires structural and institutional reform that goes beyond the scope of this project.
There is a need to explore how and why the FGA is implemented, especially with regards to public procurement. There is a discrepancy between the vision of policy-makers and the practice of public sector professionals that needs to be examined.
Whilst there is a commitment to social value in the Welsh public sector, how this is assessed in relation to financial value remains a key question and is significant for how the FGA can actively serve to change practices. This requires research into the role incentive structures and broader policy agendas (e.g. austerity) in the implementation of the FGA, particularly in relation to digital services.
There is scope for experimentation with public engagement models in the Welsh public sector focusing on data-driven technologies and they plan to pursue this further through a series of action learning sets with local authorities in Wales.
Website for project: https://datajusticelab.org/advancing-data-justice-in-the-future-generations-act/