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Public Participation & Research

Ensuring that the voices of people affected by data and AI contribute to building and shaping evidence, research, policy and practices.

Who we are and what we do

Public Participation & Research s central to the Ada Lovelace Institute’s work because it ensures that the voices of people affected by data and AI contribute to building and shaping evidence, research, policy and practices.

AI is increasingly used to make decisions that could have significant consequences for people in many areas of everyday life – from eligibility for benefits and healthcare access to job recruitment and proof of identity. But the attitudes, experiences, hopes and fears of people from diverse backgrounds are frequently missing from discussions about data and AI uses.

AI uses can only be legitimate and trustworthy if people’s views and experiences are taken into account, and if people – especially minoritised groups and people, who are often furthest removed from opportunities and benefits of AI and face the biggest impacts from these technologies – are involved in how decisions are made.

Why we listen to diverse publics


Our societies are diverse in many ways. Historic imbalances of power mean that some individuals and groups are more represented than others in both data and technology use, and more exposed than others to the opportunities, benefits, risks or harms of different AI uses. There are therefore many publics whose views matter in the creation and regulation of AI.

Our work prioritises people’s ability to think about and discuss the societies that work for them, and where and how technology can support positive future visions. These public views can help with contested technology uses and trade-offs, to support the benefits of AI and data-driven technologies and address the challenges. But despite growing interest in public engagement and participation in policy decision-making, policy professionals, governments and industry are still sometimes hesitant to consider the outcomes of these processes meaningfully. Our work supports both policymakers working towards governance and regulation and companies that are developing and deploying new technologies to have a robust understanding of public attitudes to data and AI, as well as how to involve people in decisions.

Through our activities, we use a range of methods to meaningfully engage diverse publics and build evidence, bringing together expertise in quantitative, qualitative and participatory methods through a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and convening expertise across civil society and the wider public engagement community.  We are an active convener and participant in a vibrant community of civil society and public engagement organisations, working to refine research methods, to build a robust evidence base across the AI ecosystem, and to advocate for better understanding and use of public attitudes and participatory research.

The objectives for our work are to:

  • Ensure the evidence that informs AI and data policy and practice includes the views and experiences of people and society.
  • Amplify the voices and represent the perspectives of excluded, minoritised and underrepresented people and groups.
  • Use our position as an independent research institute to develop collaborations and partnerships.
  • Partner with decision-makers who are committed to using public-engagement methodologies and responding to outcomes, to ensure meaningful and evidence-based engagement.

What we are working on

We are currently working on the following projects:

Our impact

We are working towards the systematic involvement of public voices in data and AI decision-making. To do this, we work to amplify public voices and ensure that people’s views are included in policy and industry decisions about data and AI.  Below are some ways in which our recent work has helped to move in that direction.

In June 2023, in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute, we published a nationally representative survey of public attitudes to AI in Britain. We asked people about their awareness of, experience with and attitudes towards 17 different uses of AI, including facial recognition, welfare eligibility and cancer risk assessment. The survey was designed to provide novel evidence about the perceived benefits and concerns people have about different AI uses, and how they would like to see AI regulated and governed. This research was presented to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI at their meeting on UK AI regulation.

In response to limited engagement with civil society and public views before the 2023 AI Safety Summit, we published a rapid review of evidence about public attitudes towards AI, looking across a broad range of studies to draw out common themes. The review found that there are some clear and consistent public views on AI, such as strong support for the protection of fundamental rights (like privacy) and the belief that AI needs to be regulated. This evidence review helped to strengthen Ada’s case for regulation and highlight the need for policymakers to include meaningful public engagement in decision-making about the use of AI technologies.

In 2023, the Information Commissioner’s Office reconvened our Citizens’ Biometrics Council to input into their proposals for biometrics guidance for UK companies. First convened in 2020, the Council was a deliberative dialogue with 50 members of the UK public, addressing the question: ‘What is or isn’t OK when it comes to the use of biometrics?’. Council members made 30 recommendations for policy, regulation and technology development, adding to the Ryder Review, which evidenced a fragmented regulatory landscape for these technologies. Evidence from the Citizens’ Biometrics Council has also been used to inform and influence the UK’s Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and the EU AI Act.

We also produce frameworks and work with other research domains at the Ada Lovelace Institute to support inclusive and meaningful participation in policy and practice. For example, Participatory data stewardship provides a conceptual framework for how the principles of public participation can be applied to the governance of data.