The social licence for data-intensive health research: towards co-creation, public value and trust

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-9 (2021)
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BackgroundThe rise of Big Data-driven health research challenges the assumed contribution of medical research to the public good, raising questions about whether the status of such research as a common good should be taken for granted, and how public trust can be preserved. Scandals arising out of sharing data during medical research have pointed out that going beyond the requirements of law may be necessary for sustaining trust in data-intensive health research. We propose building upon the use of a social licence for achieving such ethical governance.Main textWe performed a narrative review of the social licence as presented in the biomedical literature. We used a systematic search and selection process, followed by a critical conceptual analysis. The systematic search resulted in nine publications. Our conceptual analysis aims to clarify how societal permission can be granted to health research projects which rely upon the reuse and/or linkage of health data. These activities may be morally demanding. For these types of activities, a moral legitimation, beyond the limits of law, may need to be sought in order to preserve trust. Our analysis indicates that a social licence encourages us to recognise a broad range of stakeholder interests and perspectives in data-intensive health research. This is especially true for patients contributing data. Incorporating such a practice paves the way towards an ethical governance, based upon trust. Public engagement that involves patients from the start is called for to strengthen this social licence.ConclusionsThere are several merits to using the concept of social licence as a guideline for ethical governance. Firstly, it fits the novel scale of data-related risks; secondly, it focuses attention on trustworthiness; and finally, it offers co-creation as a way forward. Greater trust can be achieved in the governance of data-intensive health research by highlighting strategic dialogue with both patients contributing the data, and the public in general. This should ultimately contribute to a more ethical practice of governance.



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