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The civic engagement workshops recently took place in Italy, UK, Spain, Slovakia and Denmark

COMFOCUS seeks to develop a digital platform that links food consumer data across Europe. Under the General Data Protection Regulation, the use of food consumer data is possible under two conditions: either through the explicit consent of the research participant whose data is being used, or if its use is for “public benefit”. Despite the significance that the consideration of public benefit has in defining how consumer data is used, there is limited understanding of how the publics conceptualise “public benefit” in the context of food consumer data, much of which has been studied using simple survey methodology.

We utilised the game “PlayDecide” in 5 countries (UK, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia, Spain) to explore this topic.

PlayDecide enables the participants to discuss and debate, with minimal interference from the facilitator, on the policy issues that are contested, complex or relatively less known. We chose PlayDecide as an ideal engagement method to help us understand how the publics reason about public benefit relevant to food consumer data; how people achieve consensus about how to rank order public benefits; and the role of deliberation in shifting the participants’ individual responses prior and after the game.

We have recruited 16 people for 2 focus groups (8 per group) in each of six countries: one with higher education level participants (university degree or more) and one with a lower education level (less than university degree).

We analysed the following data: the participants’ initial position on the issue of what constitutes public benefit, and their position after the discussion; the transcripts from the discussions; the consensus voted at the end of the discussion.

The conclusions we reached using this methodology were:

  • We were able to identify what are commonly perceived as public benefits across a range of members of the public from different countries, some of the characteristics they share and who they believe are responsible for those benefits as well as unique views and understanding of this concept;
  • We were able to capture how a consensus building methodology ( led to change (or not, in some cases) on perspectives of what constitutes public benefit;
  • Greater agreement in what might constitute the greatest and least public benefit derived from food consumer data from a list of options was more evident across countries among those with less than a university education. Among those with at least a university education, less agreement was evident across countries as the greatest public benefit derived from food consumer data, but there was more agreement as to which option presented the least public benefit derived from food consumer data.