Helping government agencies treat people ethically

Professor Tim Dare makes a difference by helping government agencies make informed decisions on privacy, human rights, and ethical risks.

"I came to philosophy more or less by accident. I left school at 14, and went to work: on shearing gangs, as a grocery storeman, and even building coffins for a while. By my late teens I was feeling bored and a little desperate. It had occurred to me that I might be stacking cans on shelves for the rest of my life!

"I was rescued by my late wife Lynette, who helped me return to high school as an adult student. I got University Entrance in my early twenties, and then got into law school. I gave philosophy a go on the side, and fell in love with it. I went on to do a conjoint degree in law and philosophy.

"My initial interest in law had been very practical. Suffice to say I'd had a bit to do with the law between leaving school and meeting Lynette. Like many young lawyers, I was hoping to fight for justice. And though I didn't practice law for very long, that practical orientation coloured my interest in philosophy too.

"While I loved —and still love — philosophy's focus on abstract conceptual analysis, I've always been committed to the idea that philosophy can make a difference. So I've written about things like the roles and obligations of lawyers, vaccination, and parents' rights to determine their children's medical treatment, and I'm on numerous national committees where my background allows me to make a contribution."

I've always been committed to the idea that philosophy can make a difference.

Professor Tim Dare

"A significant strand of my current work has developed from a request in 2012 to provide an ethical assessment of a predictive risk modelling tool which used administrative data to predict the risk of child maltreatment. The tool promised very significant benefits, allowing child protection agencies to target scarce resources, but it also posed significant ethical risks — it was more accurate than alternatives, but still not perfect. It used people's information without their consent, it was potentially stigmatising, and so on. My assessment ensured people were aware of these risks and their possible consequences, and recommended ways to mitigate them.

"That work led to similar roles on projects in the United States, and to an ongoing role with the Ministry of Social Development, initially assessing individual proposals to use client information, and more recently helping to develop a standardised and systematic process: the Privacy, Human Rights, and Ethics Framework, or PHRaE.

"The PHRaE is intended to allow the Ministry to identify risks with project proposals early on, to 'design them out' if possible, and to make informed decisions given information about whether a proposal's potential benefits outweigh any unavoidable privacy, human rights, and ethical risks."

My journey from my teens to here seems rather remarkable — I often can't quite believe I've ended up in this wonderful job.

Professor Tim Dare

"I am currently leading a 2018–2020 Marsden-funded project delving more deeply into the ethics of social policy uses of predictive risk modelling. The core idea is that our capacity to identify data patterns and predict outcomes has outpaced our understanding of accompanying ethical risks and how they might be addressed.

"I also think and write about other things — about disagreements, roles and obligations more widely, and what we should think of To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch. My research interests are broad, though most have a practical focus.

"My journey from my teens to here seems rather remarkable — I often can't quite believe I've ended up in this wonderful job. Obviously, I owe a lot to a lot of people, especially my family —Lynette I've mentioned, but also our daughters Kelly and Max, who got dragged off to the frozen north (Canada) when I was in grad school, and my wife Justine Kingsbury, also a philosopher, and a wonderful colleague and so much more."