Scotland is uniquely placed to become a world leader in data ethics but the industry “must start asking the difficult questions now”, according to the results of a meeting between MSPs, business leaders, and data experts.

“Together, we share a belief that data-driven innovation will empower the Scottish economy going forward, and the Scottish government has really put action behind those words,” said Firas Khnaisser, head of decisioning at Standard Life and chair of DMA Scotland, the marketing trade organisation.

He added: “What is notable and crucial is that we are trying to sort these challenges to understand the worth of data not just by ourselves but in tandem with other organisations in the public and private sector. This is something we have to do together. We collectively have the ambition of being the data capital of Europe, but we could aim even higher to become world leaders in data ethics and responsible marketing.”

The DMA recently hosted a reception in the Scottish Parliament as part of its Value of Data campaign. The initiative explores the ethical questions that arise from the use of data and the event brought together MSPs, business leaders and data experts to discuss “revolutionising how the professional world views and values data”.

The organisation said that the questions include how the professional world can use data to create a fairer society, and how can business, academia, government and wider society create frameworks to ensure ethical questions are considered?

Addressing some of the issues, Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills said: “We must ensure we operate in an environment in which we have faith. Rarely a day goes by when we see data in the news. But all often, we see data in the news for negative reasons.

“But we can help change this by bringing the public with us, through getting respect for the safe and ethical use of data. Using data ethically isn’t a barrier to using data effectively. It is the only sustainable way of maintaining public trust and secure the benefits of big data.”

The DMA has partnered with Edinburgh University’s Bayes Centre and the Centre for Design Informatics to deliver a series of lectures, roundtables and material as part of the campaign. The campaign will “elevate and champion the role of data and help organisations responsibly deliver value to their customers,” it said.

University of Edinburgh chair of Design Informatics Professor Chris Speed and chair of DMA Scotland (and one of the DataIQ 100 most influential data and analytics practitioners in the UK) Firas Khnaisser led the conversation on what the data and marketing industry can do.

Professor Chris Speed, chair of Design Informatics at Edinburgh University, highlighted his belief that data can change societal and business exchanges. For him, it boils down to three key principles: Data must be good and benefit others; it should be inclusive so that everyone shares the same values of its worth; and how we obtain, process and manage data must be fair.

“Attaching money to data just doesn’t work; it’s not as simple as that. So we’ve been asking ourselves a complicated question: ‘if you change the representation of value, does it change the values that you can represent?’ If you’re thinking about what the value of data is, just think about the values that matter to you. You like things that are good, fair and inclusive,” he said.

Professor Speed will be speaking at FutureScot’s Digital Scotland Conference in Glasgow on 30 May.