Image credit: Caley Dewhurt/ODI

Sustainable data access – our work and future plans

Thu May 6, 2021
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We recap what we achieved in our work around sustainable data access, and outline our plans to continue this work in the future

To achieve their goals and continue their mission, organisations that steward data need to have long-term sustainability. Over the past 18 months, the Open Data Institute (ODI) has been researching how to design sustainable organisations, how to develop sustainable revenue streams and how to manage costs. In this blogpost, we recap what we achieved in our now-complete R&D project: ‘Sustainable data access’, and outline our plans for the future as part of our data institutions work.

Understanding and exploring sustainability

Sustainability is not something that happens overnight. For many organisations, the journey to sustainability is not straightforward – it can take time, effort and experimentation to settle upon the right business model.

In the first report produced as part of this work, ‘Designing sustainable data institutions’ (published in April 2020), we proposed a framework for thinking about the sustainability of data institutions – organisations that steward data on behalf of others for public, charitable or educational purposes. The framework consisted of three different elements:

  • The role that the organisation plays in its data ecosystem. This impacts the type and source of its revenue, and also the underlying costs that it has to cover.
  • The stage that the organisation is at in its lifecycle. This impacts the type of revenue it needs to generate, and how those revenue sources may evolve over time as the organisation and its ecosystem matures.
  • The business model of the organisations, which impacts the choice of revenue model that best aligns with its purpose.

In our second report, ‘Data institutions: reducing costs and improving sustainability’, we examined existing organisations to understand how they manage their costs. In situations where generating revenue may be challenging, minimising costs is an important tool for many organisations to reach sustainability (although it’s not without risk). We also investigated what drives grant-making activities for public and philanthropic funders in the field of data access.

The two reports surfaced the challenges of sustainability. In our first podcast, ’Sustainable access to data’, we talked about these challenges, as well as our plans to develop something practical to assist organisations work through them.

The Sustainable Data Access Workbook

Between October 2020 and March 2021, we developed the Sustainable Data Access Workbook, a tool designed to support organisations that steward data to make better decisions about their revenue models.

In our second podcast, ‘Making data institutions financially sustainable’, we discussed the development of tools and resources designed to help organisations on this front, including the workbook. The podcast also featured Graham Faiz, Principal Consultant and Digital Innovation Lead at DNV – an organisation which aims to help the UK achieve net zero emissions by 2050 using data sharing to support decarbonisation, and was involved in testing some of our early stage prototypes.

The Sustainable Data Access Workbook has been designed to help organisations that steward data to make better decisions about their revenue models, and we imagine it to be particularly useful for organisations who are in a state of change. Whether that means coming to the end of grant funding, building a first revenue strategy, or wanting to evolve and expand the organisation, this workbook can help you to plan for the transition.

The workbook contains six canvases which support organisations to reflect on and evaluate their current situation, imagine a new path forward and decide on the next steps needed to bring it to life. It is designed for organisations to use as a team, and promotes creativity, collaboration and reflection.

Roadmap showing stages of workbook: Prepare, Reflect, Imagine, Next Steps

The Sustainable Data Access Workbook is supported by a set of user guides, which walk the user through how to use each canvas step by step. To help demonstrate how the workbook can be used, we have also created an example version of the workbook completed by a fictional data organisation. All of this can be found on the Sustainable Data Access Workbook page.

What’s next?

In our third and final podcast of the series, ‘Putting the Sustainable Data Access Workbook into action’, the team (and guest Polly Hudson, Director of Colouring London, based at the Alan Turing Institute), discussed the need to address the long term financial outlooks for data projects, the importance of feedback beyond just the development stage of any data tool, and how you can make the most of using the Sustainable Data Access Workbook.

We’ll continue to promote and share the workbook with our community, and we want to hear from you. If you have been using the Sustainable Data Access Workbook, we’d love to know how it went – what worked, and what didn’t? We will be seeking to iterate and improve the workbook in the future, so any and all feedback is welcome.

Our data institutions programme will be using the workbook in its efforts to help bring about new data institutions and improve the practices of existing ones. If you would like the ODI to facilitate a workshop to support your organisation to use the Sustainable Data Access Workbook, then please get in touch.