23 July 2020

Industry-wide professional standards are to be established for data science to ensure an ethical and well-governed approach so the public can have confidence in how their data is being used.

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) will be leading on the work along with the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), the Operational Research Society (ORS), the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the Royal Society and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), to collaboratively shape and develop the data science profession.

While the skills of data scientists are increasingly in demand, there is currently no professional framework for the field. The organisations involved aim to fill that gap by developing the necessary industry-wide standards. Starting with existing academic qualifications, the work will progress on to current professional standards. The group will work with universities to ensure that educational programmes deliver the right skills and knowledge for those looking to enter the profession.

Never has data and the role of data science been more critical; while many may be aware of how it affects some areas of our lives, such as credit scoring, the current COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the role it plays in the world’s health and wellbeing. It is therefore now more important than ever that those in the field of data science maintain the highest ethical and professional standards so the public can have confidence that their data is being used ethically, stored safely and analysed robustly.

This follows recommendations in the Royal Society’s 2019 report on ‘Dynamics of data science skills’, that data science should be developed as a profession and that ‘in the longer term, professional bodies such as the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), should work together with employers and universities to identify the skills needed for data scientists and develop accreditation to ensure students and professionals can be confident in the quality of new courses.’

Rebecca George OBE, President - BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said:
“People are increasingly aware of data and how it is being used. As BCS President, I’m very encouraged by this collaboration to develop Data Science as a profession. Data is a key part of our daily lives and we must ensure those using it are working ethically and to the highest standards.”

Stian Westlake, Chief Executive of the Royal Statistical Society, said:
“You wouldn’t let a doctor perform heart surgery or an architect design your house without being confident they were working to the highest standards. We believe that people who deal with our data should follow equally high standards - and gain recognition for doing so.

“Today’s move is an important step to professionalising the field, and helping us harness data for the public good.”

Gavin Blackett, Executive Director of the OR Society, said:
“The OR Society is delighted to be involved in this initiative. Operational Research and many elements of data science are closely aligned. Data, where it’s come from, what it tells us and how it’s used in modelling, has always been a core part of ‘the OR process’, and we feel we have a lot to both contribute and learn as part of this important work to move data science professionalism forward to meet the needs of today’s world.”

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