Update from Annie Tubadji, Senior Lecturer in Economics

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Senior Lecturer in Economics, Annie Tubadji is currently a Specially Appointed Lecturer at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

As part of her visiting scholar activities, Annie will deliver an undergraduate and postgraduate course on the “Economics of Happiness” at Center for Regional Economic and Business Networks (REBN) Summer School Institute.

As part of my Visiting Scholar activities, I will deliver here two courses (undergraduate and graduate ones) on economics of happiness at their Center for Regional Economic and Business Networks (REBN) Summer School Institute.

As part of her visit, Annie will also be delivering two specially invited lectures.

More on the Summer School Institute can be found here

Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference 2019

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The Bristol Centre for Economics and Finance’s first conference on Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour was held on the 29th of April 2019.

The day was a major success with around 80 registered participants and 14 presenters with many attending organisations and academics.   The event was highly energised, with many thought provoking questions for speakers and an atmosphere full of interest. 

Bristol Green Capital introduced the day,  the afternoon session was opened by the Future Economy Group and the closing of the conference was led by Dr Peter Bradley. We would like to thank again everyone who participated.  The event will run again next year.  The slides from the day, for those who are further interested in the conference and would like to find out more, can be found here.

Autonomy launch new policy report on a shorter working week

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BCEF member Dr Danielle Guizzo Archela is an associate researcher of Autonomy, an independent, progressive think tank which aims to address the uncertainty of work in the modern era.

Autonomy is comprised from a multidisciplinary array of researchers and experts in political economy and critical theory. On Friday 1st February 2019 Autonomy launched a new policy report on a shorter working week. “The shorter working week: a radical and pragmatic proposal” outlines the case for a shorter working week and shows that there is no positive correlation between productivity and the amount of hours worked per day. The report has received praise from a number of politicians and academics.

“This is a vital contribution to the growing debate around free time and reducing the working week. With millions saying they would like to work shorter hours, and millions of others without a job or wanting more hours, it’s essential that we consider how we address the problems in the labour market as well as preparing for the future challenges of automation.” John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor

Our conventional working week and the idea of a compromising work-life balance in the UK has been debated in the media for some time. Last year in New Zealand a landmark trial of a four-day working week concluded it an unmitigated success and the discussion on how a four-day work week could be implemented long-term was opened up.

The Autonomy report has already been making headlines, and the idea of working “part-time” being standard, rather than just an option for those who can afford it, has been very popular. Below are just a few of the recent articles on the report.

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2019/02/how-idea-four-day-week-went-mainstream
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/01/bring-on-the-four-day-working-week-for-teachers
https://metro.co.uk/2019/02/01/boss-needs-know-productive-shorter-working-week-8423713/
https://www.redpepper.org.uk/less-work-more-play-a-solution-to-britains-economic-woes/

Autonomy have also produced a short YouTube video to accompany the report launch.

The Shorter Working Week launch video

Please see the Autonomy website to read more and to download the full report.

Does immigration affect life satisfaction of people in host societies? The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales

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By Artjoms Ivlevs

On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) held a historic referendum in which citizens voted, 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union (EU). The outcome of this vote has sent shockwaves around the world and is likely to change the course of British and European politics for years to come. It is widely recognized that immigration played a major role in the decision of the UK to leave the EU: immigration was a dominant theme in the pre-referendum debate and remains a key issue as the UK prepares its exit from the bloc. Specifically, the proponents of Brexit argued that the levels of immigration to the UK from other EU countries have become too high; exiting the EU would enable the country to control immigration from the EU. Slogans such as ‘immigrants take our jobs’ and ‘take back control of our borders’ have resonated well with the UK general public, for whom immigration has indeed become one of the biggest worries.

However, for some time scholars have been pointing that immigration has few, if any, adverse effects on the labour markets of migrant-receiving countries (Constant, 2014; Peri, 2014). Such findings, coupled with mounting worries over immigration levels, raise a question: in what ways does immigration affect the well-being of people in migrant-receiving countries – beyond the realm of the labour markets? In a study “Local-level immigration and life satisfaction: The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales”, published in 2018 in Environment and Planning A (Ivlevs and Veliziotis, 2018), we explored the effects of immigration on the subjective well-being, and in particular life satisfaction, of local residents – a relationship that has so far received little attention in both the literature and public debate.

To answer our research question – whether immigration affects the life satisfaction of residents in a host country – we focused on a recent immigration wave to the UK. Following the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, the UK opened its labour market to citizens of the new EU member states (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – also known as the accession or A8 countries). As a result, 1.5 million East Europeans started working in the UK between 2004 and 2011. In 2015, Poles – the largest group among the A8 migrants – became the largest foreign-born group in the UK, overtaking Indians, the Irish, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

Besides being fast and unexpectedly large, the A8 migration to the UK was also geographically unevenly distributed (see the map below). The demand for jobs in the geographically-concentrated, ‘migrant-intensive’ industries, such as agriculture, food processing and manufacturing, meant that that some UK communities were affected by the East European migration much more than others. We related the local-level intensity of A8 migration to the changes in people’s life satisfaction over time. To capture the local-level migration intensity, we used data from the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), which documented, between 2004 and 2011, the number of A8 workers starting a job in the UK at the local authority level. To capture changes in individual life satisfaction, we used the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which followed the same people over time.

Geographical distribution of A8 migration in England and Wales, 2004-2008, % of local population

 

Source: Worker Registration Scheme and authors’ calculations.

Our results showed that immigration from the A8 countries in the UK on average was not related to the life satisfaction of UK nationals. However, important sub-group differences emerged and are presented in the graphs below. More intense local-level immigration was associated with lower life satisfaction among older people, as well as the unemployed and the economically inactive, while the life satisfaction of younger people and those in employment went up with local-level immigration. We have also obtained somewhat weaker evidence that the life satisfaction of better educated UK nationals and those with higher incomes increased with immigration, while the life satisfaction of people with low incomes decreased with it. All these associations were pronounced in the ‘migration shock’ period – the first two years after the UK opened its labour market to the new Europeans – and became statistically insignificant in the longer term.

Predicted life satisfaction as a function of the local immigration rate for respondents of different age, employment status, income and education

How can one explain these results? A positive association between immigration and life satisfaction for the young could be because young people are in favor of diversity brought about by immigration. In contrast, older people might be particularly opposed to diversity and change, as well as be concerned with the (perceived) pressure immigrants put on local health services; this could explain why the elderly become less life-satisfied when larger immigrant inflows take place. The negative association between the local immigration rate and life satisfaction among the unemployed could mean that people in this group feel that their chances of getting back to work and their labour market bargaining power get weaker with higher levels of immigration – a form of labour market competition. At the same time, those in employment do not seem to be threatened by labour market competition, as their life satisfaction increases with the levels of local immigration.

The finding that life satisfaction increases with local-level immigration among those with high incomes and relatively high levels of education could indicate that these groups do not perceive Eastern European migrants as labour market competitors (which is consistent with the fact that the A8 migrants are concentrated in low-skilled sectors/occupations). Instead, the wealthier and better educated could be gaining in life satisfaction through, for example, enhanced social life (many A8 migrants are employed in the hospitality industry, keeping its product prices low) or satisfaction with house or family life (A8 migrants increased the supply of cheap household services).

Overall, our results suggest that immigration does not affect the well-being of different groups of people in the same way and that labour market considerations are unlikely to be a dominant factor in explaining the links between immigration and natives’ well-being. In addition, the fact that the life satisfaction of particular groups, such as the elderly, decreases with immigration has implications for the formation of immigration policy in most developed immigration-receiving countries, where populations are aging and older people are generally more likely to vote. From this perspective, the recent decision of the UK to leave the EU could well be explained by the negative association between A8 immigration and the life satisfaction of older people in the UK. This contention, however, hinges on the assumptions that 1) the Brexit referendum vote was indeed largely about restricting immigration, and 2) life satisfaction affects people’s immigration policy preferences.

Reference to the full paper:

Ivlevs, A. and Veliziotis, M. (2018). “Local-level immigration and life satisfaction: The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales”, Environment and Planning A 50(1): 175-193.

The article is also available on the UWE Research Repository.

 

Improving the pay of UK apprentices

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By Professor Felix Ritchie and Dr Hilary Drew

 

Apprentices are amongst the lowest paid workers in the UK. Their statutory minimum wage is lower than for any other worker aged 16 or over. Despite this, our research, along with Michail Veliziotis at Southampton University, showed that up to a quarter of all apprentices still seem to be paid below their legal minimum hourly rate. In comparison, the rate of non-compliance amongst the whole work force is less than 5%.

We argued that this was partly due to the minimum wage for apprentices being more complicated than for other workers. However, in this segment of the economy there are weak mechanisms for checking that the correct wage is being paid. Apprentices are often unaware or incurious about pay rates, while employers showed a confidence that they could work out pay rates which wasn’t strongly supported by statistics. Apprentices had a high degree of trust in employers to pay the right wage, which meant that mistakes were unlikely to be uncovered. Finally, all this was set in a low-pay culture, where it was accepted that “rubbish pay” (to quote one apprentice) at the early stage of your career was one of the rites of passage.

We advised that more targeted information could help to resolve this problem; in particular, we proposed an ‘app app’ (a wage calculator designed for young people fresh out of school or college), and working with trainers at FE colleges who were best placed to help apprentices check their pay.

Our recommendations have now been taken forward in the South West. Earlier this month we presented our findings at the “Great Apprenticeships – Treated Well – Treated Right” event organised by the South West TUC at the City of Bristol College.  Union representatives, training providers, local government and apprentices attended the event.

One of the aims was to showcase the South West TUC’s new wage calculator,  developed specifically for apprentices. The meeting also presented an opportunity for interested parties to examine a regional approach.

The event indicated that there was a clear common interest in taking action to improve pay awareness amongst apprentices and to better promote the TUC’s wage calculator. We are excited to remain involved with the work taking this forward in 2019 and plan to support the City of Bristol College in targeting their apprentices as part of the South West TUC’s campaign. We hope as a result of this we can demonstrate how a simple intervention, allied to a targeted information programme, can make a material difference to some of the lowest paid employees.

Integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum

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Dr Peter Bradley, leader of our Sustainability Research cluster, has recently published a new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The full paper can be downloaded here.

Integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum: A case study analysis and sector wide survey of barriers.

Economics is a critical subject in bringing about sustainable development; by its definition it addresses questions of resource allocation. Fundamentally, economics addresses choices about what is produced and consumed in societies. It is these choices and incentives that are central to the root causes of global environmental and social impacts. This paper starts by identifying literature on educating for sustainable development in business and economics and highlights that the integration of sustainable development into mainstream economics curriculum is scant and largely missing based on current evidence.

Highlights

• First department wide intervention study of integrating sustainability in economics.
• First sector wide survey of barriers to integrating sustainability into economics.
• Surveys identify key barriers to integration of sustainability into economics.
• The Research Excellence Framework is a major barrier to integrating sustainability.
• The approach and survey can be applied elsewhere for comparative analysis.

Abstract

Economics is a critical subject for the integration of sustainable development into curriculum given the discipline’s influence in shaping social metabolism of societies, inequality, environmental impacts and wellbeing. There are very few empirical studies of the integration of sustainable development into economics curriculum. The purpose of the paper is to conduct analysis of a department wide intervention to integrate sustainable development into economics at a case study University, the first of its kind. The study makes use of surveys, interviews and key word searches to provide both qualitative and quantitative data and findings. Results indicate integration of sustainable development into curriculum on some modules but not the majority of the sample, evidence of resistance was also found. A range of barriers to integrating sustainable development into curriculum were identified in interviews. A sector wide survey on barriers to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum was then conducted to provide empirical evidence on the subject. This is the first sector wide study of barriers to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum. Results from the survey show that the Research Excellence Framework is a substantial barrier to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum. The survey can be developed and applied elsewhere in the world to enable comparative analysis across countries, to get wider evidence on barriers.

 

Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference

Join us at UWE Bristol for a one day conference on 29 April 2019 to discuss pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour. More information and registration online here. Get in touch at bcef@uwe.ac.uk for more information or to submit an abstract for presentation.

Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference with Dr Peter Bradley

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Current world population is just over seven billion and expected to reach nine billion before 2050. Increasing affluence in the developing and transition countries where population is growing most is now resulting in a wave of “new consumers”. This is important as in the developed world the main drivers for the level and growth of environmental pressures are said to be final consumption and affluence. Technology on its own will not adequately ensure that society stays within environmental limits. Therefore there is a need for serious consideration and research into consumer, employee and entrepreneur behaviours.

In this vain, the Bristol Centre for Economics and Finance (BCEF) is hosting a one day inter-disciplinary conference, organised by Dr Peter Bradley, leader of BCEF’s Sustainability Research Cluster and an expert in sustainability research. Peter’s research explores environmental and energy challenges and governance using empirical evidence based research as well as conceptual and theory based research. The “Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference” is taking place on 29 April 2019 and registration to attend is now open. Keynote speakers include Jes Rutter from JRP solutions and Dr Mark Everard (Associate Professor of Ecosystem Services, UWE Bristol). For more information and online registration, please see our event page.

 

Call for papers

We invite abstracts from PhD students, researchers and practitioners across the social and natural sciences to present on topics related to ‘pro-environmental consumer and employee behaviour’. Please send a 500 word abstract about your topic and contribution to bcef@uwe.ac.uk by Wednesday 19 December 2018 to be considered for presentations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UWE Bristol Economics at the 9th IIPPE Annual Conference in Political Economy

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By Sara Stevano, Susan Newman and Lotta Takala-Greenish.

On 12-14th September 2018, the 9th IIPPE Annual Conference in Political Economy took place at Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia. Keeping up with recent years’ record, UWE Economics was very well represented at the conference! The conference was organised around the overarching theme of ‘The State of Capitalism and the State of Political Economy’ and over 300 scholars and activists from across the world discussed their political economy research, touching upon various facets of capitalist transformations and pushing the frontiers of political economy. The conference organisers reported that many participants thought that this was the best IIPPE conference so far!

Among the keynote speeches were a panel shared by Professor Lena Lavinas, Professor of Welfare Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and Professor Fiona Tregenna, University of Johannesburg South African Research Chair in Industrialisation stood out for their original content. Professor Lavinas highlighted the shifts in social programmes to increase financial inclusion. She commented on the contribution of social service programmes to GDP, 1.5% for developing and 2.7% of GDP for OECD countries, and connected these to the accumulation of debt among low-income households (see the excellent twitter feed by Ingrid H. Kvangraven). Professor Spread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtSpread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtTregenna focused on the need to unpack different forms of de-industrialisation and to explore the perspective that Marx’s analysis can offer to understanding industrialisation. In particular, her insights included an expanded focus on the heterogeneity within sectors and the inseparability of production and consumption (see also this blog post for further insights on the IIPPE2018 conference).

Spread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtSpread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtReflections on the state of capitalism are very relevant and timely in the context of shifting geographies of production, global relations of power and political discourse. Thus, it is all the more important to discuss how political economy research can help us understand and shape the economic, social and political transformations that mark our time. Critical political economy has an important role to play in transforming and revitalising economics, making it an inclusive and relevant area of study.

The three UWE Economics researchers who were in attendance this year intervened in panels on neoliberalism, the political economy of work, social reproduction and commodity studies. Dr Lotta Takala-Greenish presented her research on Exploring formal/informal work structures in South African waste collection (slides available here) in a panel that was described by the audience as one of the most interesting of the conference. This panel shared with Professor Stephanie Allais of the University of Witwatersrand, put forward important questions about the role of training and learning (both on and off the job) and the connections between education and labour markets. It also provided a forum to discuss and develop future collaborations with the South African Research Chair for Skills Development at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour. Dr Susan Newman presented her joint paper with Sam Ashman on New Patterns in Capital Flight from South Africa and discussed the preliminary findings of her joint paper with Dr Sara Stevano on The neoliberal restructuring of UK Overseas Development Assistance (slides available here), both papers were very appreciated by the audience who thought them revealing and timely. Sara Stevano presented her paper on Women’s work in Mozambique: Gender, social differentiation and social reproduction (slides available here) in a great all-women panel on social reproduction and the political economy of work.

Across several sessions, there was much discussion of the future of pluralist economics and education where UWE economics was highlighted as a leading institution. UWE Economics is now considered as an established centre for critical political economy, with possibly the largest concentration of critical political economists in a UK university. UWE’s recent recruitment of pluralist economists has been noted widely and was reflected in questions about future recruitment plans. Participation of UWE Economics in IIPPE continues to reaffirm the presence of our group in current political economy debates and generates opportunities for collaboration with colleagues in the UK and beyond. UWE Economics academics are involved with IIPPE in various capacities. Susan Newman oversees the content published on the IIPPE website and coordinates the working group on commodities studies; Sara Stevano coordinates the social reproduction working group with Hannah Bargawi (SOAS); Lotta Takala-Greenish set up and previously coordinated the working group on Minerals Energy Complex and Comparative Industrialisation.

One of the key aims of IIPPE is to provide a platform for early career researchers to interact with more established and senior scholars in political economy. The conference provided an opportunity benchmark and share information about postgraduate training in political economy. The UWE MSc in Global Political Economy was mentioned as one of only a handful degrees providing an interdisciplinary political economy approach housed within an economics department. The first intake of UWE’s MSc Global Political Economy students will be submitting their dissertations end of September and are being encouraged to submit their research to present at the next IIPPE conference in July 2019. We are also welcoming our new 2018-2019 MSc students who will no doubt contribute to the active research environment that we have here at UWE Bristol.

 

Review of “Cents and Sensibility- What economics can learn from the humanities”

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By Sebastian Berger.

CENTS AND SENSIBILITY – WHAT ECONOMICS CAN LEARN FROM THE HUMANITIES, by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Princeton University Press: 2017, pp. 307; ISBN 978-0-691-17668-0

The title expresses the main argument of the book under review, which grew out of an interdisciplinary undergraduate course at Northwestern University dealing with the subject matter of “choice”. Its authors are professors of economics (Schapiro) and of Slavic languages and literature (Morson) who think that economics is “too narrow”, which undermines its usefulness for “policy-making”, for “understanding human behaviour”, and for “predicting the future”. The intention is explicitly not to attack economists but to help to expand its “scope and power” via a dialogue-not a fusion-between economics and the humanities. This vision is called “humanomics”, that is, an economics improved through an understanding of story-telling.

The main take-away is that great literature is a great source of wisdom for understanding human beings, which serves to help us make wiser decisions in varying situations. The argument is that great novelists are better at this understanding than social scientists.

The main concerns of the authors are near and dear to many heterodox economists: narrowness of economics and openness to insights from the humanities. Those who are particularly concerned with saving economics from science, in the sense of a mechanism, biologism, or cyborgism, find the basic argument of the book attractive. It is a missed opportunity, however, that the authors do not engage more with the existing literature on modes of intellection in economics, such as story-telling, rhetoric, poetry, metaphors, hermeneutics (the brief mentioning of works by McCloskey and Bronk is unsatisfactory). The entire literature on the role of history, philosophy, and ethics in economics is likewise absent, which is slightly worrying in a book that is concerned with these matters.

The authors do not provide criteria for what they consider valid narratives, while they seem to have no fundamental problems with the capitalist development model. In fact, they continuously refer to development indicators of GDP growth, development of markets, and legal property rights. The comparison between South Korea and Ghana is especially revealing as GDP-growth is taken as the main indicator for economic development. Sustainability, happiness, and inequality indicators are curiously absent from the discussion.

What is missing from the book is a discussion of the social-psychological dimension of economics that would highlight the challenges of implementing “humanomics”. The profession of economics has deep vested interests in its approach, which is thoroughly institutionalized and exhibits psychological barriers to change. (Berger 2016) The suppression of heterodox economists speaks volumes about how the economics profession handles challenges to its ontological and methodological core. (Lee 2009)

What is missing also from the discussion is a mention of those approaches to economics that are actually compatible with the humanities, which are today gathered under the umbrella of heterodox economics. The chapter on alternative foundations for economics provides a critique of behavioural economics for its lack of cultural analysis and calls for a grounding of economics in cultural and institutional inquiry as developed by Adam Smith. The introductory chapter vaguely alludes to a recent turn towards culture in development economics. (p. 9, fn. 11) Heterodox economists would ask why there is no mention of institutional and social economics, and economic anthropology which have developed this approach in detail since Adam Smith. The project of incorporating culture and institutions in economic analysis continued in the works of Karl Marx, the German Historical School, Thorstein Veblen, John M. Keynes, amongst others. Omitting these contributions and their contemporary followers is a severe limitation. Ironically, the chapter outlining the potential contribution of the humanities (ch. 6) proposes the incorporation of the history of ideas as a remedy to the narrowness of economics. (p. 237) I would have loved to see the authors make a start with an appropriate history and evaluation of the fate of those contributions to economics that were actually open to the humanities. This could have informed the readers of this book of the great wealth of existing contributions to this project of grounding economics in the humanities. (cf. Berger 2017)

The full book review has been published by the Heterodox Ecomonics Newsletter is available to read online here.

 

Australia’s bold proposals for government data sharing

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By Felix Ritchie.

In August I spent a week in Australia working with the new Office of the National Data Commissioner (ONDC). The ONDC, set up at the beginning of July, is barely two months old but has been charged with the objective of getting a whole-of-government approach to data sharing ready for legislation early in 2019.

This is a mammoth undertaking, not least because the approach set out in the ONDC’s Issues Paper proposes a new way of regulating data management. Rather than the traditional approach of trying to specify in legislation exactly what may or may not be allowed, the ONDC is proposing a principles-based approach: this focuses on setting out the objectives of any data sharing and the appropriate mechanisms by which access is governed and regulated.

In this model, the function of legislation is to provide the ground rules for data sharing and management within which operational decisions can be made efficiently. This places the onus on data managers and those wanting to share data to ensure that their solutions are demonstrably ethical, fair, appropriate and sensible. On the other hand, it also frees up planners to respond to changing circumstances: new technologies, new demands, shifts in attitudes, the unexpected…

The broad idea of this is not completely novel. In recent years, the principles-based approach to data management in government has increasingly come to be seen as operational best practice, allowing as it does for flexibility and efficiency in response to local conditions. It has even been brought into some legislation, including the UK’s Digital Economy Act 2017 and the European General Data Protection Regulation. Finally, the monumental Australian Productivity Commission report of 2017  laid out much of the groundwork, by providing an authoritative evidence base and a detailed analysis of core concepts and options.

In pulling these strands together, the ONDC proposals move well beyond current legislation but into territory which is well supported by evidence. Because of the unfamiliarity with some of the concepts, the ONDC has been carrying out an extensive consultation, some of which I was able to observe and participate in.

A key proposal is to develop five ‘Data Sharing Principles’, based on the Five Safes framework (why, who, how, with what detail, with what outcomes) as the overarching structure. The Five Safes is the most widely used model for government data access but has only been used twice before to frame legislation, in the South Australia Public Sector (Data Sharing) Act 2016 and the  UK Digital Economy Act 2017.

The most difficult issues facing the ONDC arise from the ‘why’ domain: what is the public benefit in sharing data and the concomitant risk to an individual’s privacy? How will ‘need-to-know’ for data detail be assessed? What are the mechanisms to prevent unauthorised on-sharing of data? How will shared data be managed over its lifecycle, including disposal? To what uses can shared data be put? Can data be shared for compliance purposes? How can proposals be challenged?

These are all good questions, but they are not new: any ethics or approvals board worth its salt asks similar questions, and would expect good answers before it allows data collection, sharing or analysis to proceed. A good ethics board also knows that this is not a checklist: ethical approval should be a constructive conversation to ensure a rock-solid understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and the risks you’re accepting to do so.

This is the also the crux of the principles-based approach being taken by the ONDC: it is not for the law to specify how things should be done, nor to specify what data sources can be shared. But the law does provide the mechanisms to ensure that any proposals put forward can be assessed against a clear purpose test around when data may and may not be shared and that appropriate safeguards are in place…

Finally, the law will require transparency; this has to be done in sunlight. A public body, using public money and resources for the public benefit, should be able to answer the hard questions in the public arena; otherwise, where is the accountability? The ONDC will require data sharing agreements to be publicly available, so people can see for what purpose (and with what associated protections) their data are being used.

To some, this need to justify activities on a case-by-case basis, rather than having a black-and-white yes/no rule, might seem like an extra burden. The aim of the consultation is to ensure that this isn’t the case. In fact, a transparent, multi-dimensional assessment is any project’s best friend: it provides critical input at the design stage and helps to spot gaps in planning or potential problems, as well as giving opponents a clear opportunity to raise objections.

Of course, even if the legislation is put in place, there is still no guarantee that it will turn out as planned. As I have written many times (for example in 2016), attitudes are what matter. The best legislation or regulation in the world can be derailed by individuals unwilling to accept the process. This is why the consultation process is so important. This is also why the ONDC has been charged with the broader role of changing the Australian public sector culture around data sharing, which tends to be risk-averse. The ONDC also has a role to build and maintain trust with the public through better engagement to hear their concerns.

From my perspective, this is a fascinating time. The ONDC’s proposals are bold but built on a solid foundation of evidence. In theory, they propose a ground-breaking way to offer a holy trinity of flexibility, accountability, and responsibility. If the legislation ultimately reflects the initial proposals, then I suspect many other governments will be beating a path to Australia’s door.

All opinions expressed are those of the author.