New guidance on data and data analysis released to help the development of inclusive standards

There is growing awareness that the gaps and biases in data can have an impact on equality and inclusion. To ensure standards are robust and work equally for everyone, this blog post explains how a new BSI Flex Standard suggests a process to help standards makers recognize and overcome data bias.

We all want standards that are robust, work equally well for all users and that do no harm. Yet it could be the case that the data used to develop standards has gaps and biases. If such data is used to develop standards, it could result in outcomes that are directly or indirectly biased towards or against societal groups, and have an adverse impact on equality and inclusion.

These issues prompted BSI’s Standards-Makers Engagement and Inclusion team to develop a concept for a new Flex Standard. Sponsored by UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS’s) Office for Product Safety & Standards, BSI Flex 236 v1.0: 2022-01, Enabling the development of inclusive standards: understanding the role of data and data analysis – Guide is now available as a free PDF and all standards-makers are encouraged to download copy.

What’s a Flex and what’s in it?

BSI Flex 236 v1.0: 2022-01 was developed using the new flexible approach that BSI is applying to standards-making in areas where there is an immediate need for guidance on good practice, and a recognition that good practice is still evolving. Flex standards are developed using an agile, iterative model and when released are simultaneously also open for public comment and user feedback.

BSI Flex 236 v1.0:2022-01 aims to give guidance to standards developers on how data is to be used in the development of all types of standards. It covers the ways data is selected, assessed and used in standards development, including different data types and processing.

The Flex also covers different types of human bias and how cognitive biases can change the way data is interpreted and incorporated into decision-making processes. In addition, it touches on how data and data models can introduce bias or exclusion into the standards development process and the impacts of data bias or exclusion and the communities affected. This can include impacts related to protected characteristics, as well as to non-protected characteristics.

The standard uses the word “data” in the broadest possible sense. It includes statistics, observations, numerical analysis and interpretation, but also all types of information and knowledge inputs. The standard is concerned with the data that is used to create standards, including data used to decide which standards to develop, what they should and should not include, and to inform development decision-making. It also covers standards that specify the use of data or data collection.

All types of standards developer

The document is for use by any and all types of standards developers in any type of organization, including professional bodies. This guidance could also be used by government departments and agencies for the development of policy and regulation.

Why does it matter?

BSI Flex 236 v1.0:2022-01 aims to build the capability of standards developers to work with data with inclusion in mind. By understanding data biases better, the standards that are produced are likely to be more representative and less likely to perpetuate bias, inequality or exclusion for social groups.

This Flex will be new tool for enabling the development of inclusive standards that address the needs of all standards users equally and provide equal benefit to all those affected by them.