Increase access to data while maintaining trust

Credit: ODI/Caley Dewhurst

How do we create trustworthy and sustainable data institutions?

Tue Feb 18, 2020
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Alongside our continuing work around ‘data trusts’, we are also exploring a broader range of institutional data frameworks

Our CEO Jeni recently outlined how we’re thinking about ‘data institutions’ – organisations whose key activities revolve around stewarding and governing access to data on behalf of a community of other organisations or people.

Exploring data institutions is a key focus for a number of our current projects and our planned activities for 2020. In this post we look in more detail at some of those projects, and share some of the questions we’re considering.

Existing data institutions

As Jeni’s post highlighted, and as we’ve shown on the Data Access Map, there are many different types of data institutions.

Last year we focused on data trusts. While we are continuing to do work around data trusts, several of our current projects are looking at a broader range of institutional frameworks. This helps us learn where other approaches might be more suitable.

There are many existing organisations that fit the definition of a data institution, whether they are a data club, data cooperative, data commons or something else.

By exploring these existing organisations to understand the role they play in building open, trustworthy data ecosystems – and their successes and challenges – our goal is to create guidance that will help strengthen existing institutions, and support the creation of new institutions where necessary. We recognise that sometimes we may need new institutions, but sometimes it is better to work with and improve existing frameworks and approaches.

We’ve prioritised two themes to focus on: what makes a data institution trustworthy and trusted? And how do we make them sustainable?

Trustworthy institutions

For institutions to be trusted they need to act in trustworthy ways. But what does that mean in practice?

What are the ways in which we expect a trustworthy organisation to act? How might we assess or certify that an institution can be trusted to fulfil its mission to steward data without creating harm?

Answering these questions is leading us to think about how organisations are designed, in terms of their legal forms and governance. We’re also thinking about how day-to-day responsible data stewarding can demonstrate trustworthy behaviours.

Working with one of our commercial partners, we’re also considering how data institutions and other intermediaries can help to increase trust across the data ecosystem. That may involve demonstrating leadership, or building expectations around ethical and responsible data practices into contracts and partnerships.

Sustainable institutions

If data institutions are to be effective at creating open, trustworthy data ecosystems, then they need to be sustainable.

So we’re also exploring how new data institutions are funded, and what revenue models can provide longer term financial sustainability.

We think that some revenue models might be more aligned with the behaviours and design-making that we expect from a trustworthy, sustainable institution.

For example, is a business model based on licensing data at odds with a need for strong governance around data access? Are some revenue models, like grant funding, unsuitable for longer term stability and growth of institutions? How do revenue models evolve over the life-cycle of an institution?

We are digging into these questions by engaging with a variety of emerging, operational and retired data institutions.

Get in contact

If you are interested in being involved in this, or any of our upcoming work around data institutions please email us.