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Can we increase access to data while retaining trust?

Tue Apr 24, 2018
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A new ODI project aims to increase access to data while retaining trust. Here are some of the research questions to be explored

The ODI is starting a new project to increase access to data while retaining trust. ODI Head of Policy Peter Wells shares some of the research questions that will be investigated

By Peter Wells

At the Open Data Institute, our vision is for people, organisations and communities to use data to make better decisions and be protected from any of its harmful impacts.

Our ability to use data to make better decisions is often helped by services built by new businesses and technologies. These services can help us to live our lives and improve our societies, while new businesses can also create economic value through new jobs and increased tax revenues. To flourish, they need easy and secure access to data. This isn’t surprising; data is becoming a vital new form of infrastructure, and it needs to be as open as possible for innovation to thrive.

Meanwhile, trust is an important factor to consider when increasing data access. It is becoming more important each day, as recent revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica show.

Without trust, people, businesses and governments might withdraw from sharing data. Trust can be lost for sharing personal and non-personal data between citizens and organisations using data about them, and between the organisations that hold and use data.

Researching people, organisations, policy and models for data sharing

At the ODI, we are starting a new 12-month project that will explore how to increase access to data while retaining trust.

We’ll be researching the needs and thoughts of various groups of people including those who share data about themselves or that they’ve collected, data stewards that hold data that can be shared, and organisations that use data to create new services. We want to understand what makes people decide whether to share data and what causes them to build or lose trust.

In our previous research – in the transport, telecoms and retail sectors along with citizen surveys, for example – we’ve found a number of barriers to opening and sharing data. These included the fear of privacy and security breaches, the belief that costs outweigh benefits, a siloed mentality that one organisation can deliver everything, and a lack of data skills and literacy in businesses and consumers. Through this project, we will build on that work in more sectors and combine it with research that other people have published, such as doteveryone’s ‘Digital attitudes’ report and RAND Europe’s ‘Assessing the public perception of security and privacy’ report.

At the moment, we think trust can be lost and gained mainly through factors such as ethical and privacy issues, a lack of engagement and discussion, or a lack of an equitable return of the benefits produced through data sharing. We will challenge that thinking during this project.

We’ll be looking at the evolving policy context. Governments are bringing in new legislation and policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, Germany’s new open data legislation, France’s AI strategy and the UK’s measures to build citizen skills, but we are still only part-way into this current wave of tech-driven change. Legislation and policy will continue to evolve quickly as societies decide what is right for them.


Finally, we will investigate business, governance and organisational models for sharing data while retaining trust. There are various options for making data available – some tried and tested, some new. Some of the examples we have found so far include open data, data trusts, data cooperatives, data marketplaces, 1-1 data sharing contracts, data portability, data aggregators, certificates and trust marks. Some of these include third parties making decisions on people’s behalf or auditing how data is used, and some don’t.

We know that businesses and public sector organisations find it difficult to know what’s available and which options to try for their particular business models and contexts. We will pull together a list of the options and lessons people have learnt when implementing them.

We’ll research in the open and with partners that want to increase access to data

We will work in the open using a range of research techniques, regularly sharing progress for feedback and so other people can learn from it.

We’ll focus on a few sectors and technologies. Context is important, for people and organisations who are contributing data, those who steward it and those who build services that use it, and a focus will help create impact.

The new technologies are likely to include artificial intelligence, where the prospect of better services and new business has led to recent announcements by the UK, Chinese, and French governments and the EU, along with our own work on AI and business models.

Other technologies could include driverless cars and drones. The sectors might include professional services (eg legal advice or accountancy), transport, finance and public services.

We’ll spin out sub-projects where we find it useful. We recently selected specialist digital rights consultancy IF to help us investigate how the right to data portability interacts with the fact that data can often be about multiple people. For example, an education record about a single child is likely to include data about multiple other children, people with parental responsibility and teachers; while a driverless car’s journey data might include a group of friends.

We like to base our research on practical delivery experience so we will work with partners who want to increase access to data, so we can openly experiment with some of the new models or our final outputs in controlled conditions.

We are not sure what we will produce

We’re not sure what the final outputs from this project will be yet – we need to understand the problems more first.

We might well produce guides that help organisations make decisions about how and why to increase access to data. In some circumstances, these guides might advise against sharing data. (Some data should be kept closed and private, and there are times when data cannot be shared with trust.)

We might well produce recommendations for governments on how to create the right policy and regulatory environments for increased access to data.

We might well produce other things – we’ll work it out as we go.

Get involved or stay involved

We will regularly share progress – sign up to our newsletter or keep visiting the ODI’s website to find out more.

If you’d like to share thoughts for the ODI’s research, or if you or your organisation might want to join or support our work on increasing access to data while retaining trust, get in touch.