Project summary

The ODI’s Data Trust Exploration Group (DTEG) was established in early 2019 to provide third-party input into the ODI’s work on data trust pilots. It was set up as an external reference group supporting the ODI exploration of whether data trusts are a useful approach in managing and safeguarding data, and whether they can enable and stimulate data sharing between organisations.

The group comprised 15 members from organisations such as Nesta, the European Commission, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Open Data China. The group was formed as part of our work with the UK Government’s Office for AI, which – along with Innovate UK – sponsored the overall data trust pilot work.

The purpose of the group was to:

  • provide third-party input into the ODI’s pilot data trust work
  • share some of its emerging findings
  • help connect together people and organisations working on similar initiatives around the world.

To realise the potential benefits of data for our societies and economies we need trustworthy data stewardship. We need to establish different approaches to deciding who should have access to data, for what purposes and to whose benefit, and make it easier for more people to adopt them. Data trusts are one approach to data stewardship.

The DTEG was part of our research into the opportunities and challenges of developing data trusts – legal structures that provide independent stewardship of data.

Key facts and figures

  • An open invitation was published for people and organisations to join the group.
  • Following set criteria, a diverse range of people and organisations were selected to be part of the group, reflecting a broad range of interests and expertise.
  • We received 60 applications and chose 15 members to be part of the group.
  • The members are from Europe, the US and China.
  • Four meetings were held between January and April 2019.
  • The meetings were held online to allow easy participation for members in different countries.
  • The meetings were co-chaired by Jeni Tennison, CEO of the ODI, and Roger Taylor, Chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

What was the ODI’s role?

The aim of the DTEG was to ensure that our work on data trusts involved, and was informed by, others working in the same field of interest. There is work being carried out around the world on data trusts. Using the work of others to inform our work ensured our data trust work was of the highest quality. It provided a way for us to involve others in our work, to share our ideas and to enable critical review.

We wanted other people and organisations to be connected to our work on data trusts. The DTEG meant they could have sight of what we were doing, before it was published. It gave them the opportunity to steer what we were doing and also to share their work on data trusts.

Our data trust work is a substantial project. It made sense to use a relatively small proportion of the budget on an external advisory board. It allowed external experts to critique and review the work as it progressed, to provide input and advice, and to provide a steer on the direction of the project.

We had an open call setting out the purpose of the DTEG. Anyone who was interested in joining the group could apply, giving information on their organisation, their involvement with data trusts and what they wanted to achieve by being part of the group.

The meetings were run in a flexible manner. An agenda was drawn up setting out what topics would be covered, and any papers or reports that we wanted people to read before the meeting were distributed. In some meetings we presented slides, whereas in others it was simply an open discussion.

What was challenging?

Attendance at the meetings was generally good, although it did taper off. For the first two meetings, 12/13 people attended; for the second two meetings, seven/eight people attended.

There was some discussion around whether or how to keep the group going, and whether it could be self-sustaining. However, the group was set up specifically because of the larger project; it wasn’t a separate entity and so couldn’t be run as a standalone group. The only way for it to have continued would be if it was a more formalised peer network.

When developing similar groups in the future, it is important to consider having some help with coordinating the meetings and making sure they are booked in advance, and to also bring fresh content to each meeting to maintain interest. We should also draw on the ODI’s expertise in running peer networks, using best-practice methodologies to promote learning and knowledge exchange.

What went well?

Holding the meetings online was inclusive and encouraged participation. Meetings in person would have been restrictive, especially as we wanted to ensure an international membership.

We wanted it to be a fixed group so that we could really focus on the topic. We made sure we had members who all had something to contribute, and had a pool of applicants to choose from, allowing us to hone the selection process to achieve the skills, experience and diversity required.

Members were willing to share their early-stage work. Some members shared first drafts of reports, for example, that weren’t yet in the public domain. This helped us understand wider national and international thinking on relevant topics, to inform our work where appropriate.

Establishing the DTEG amplified the impact of the larger project that surrounded it. The group environment enabled us to disseminate information as we went, and engage with others as we worked on the wider project. It also brought people together who might not have otherwise known about each other’s work.

The DTEG gave us a better understanding of the difficulties around creating data trusts. It became clear through the group that people were concerned about using data trusts to steward personal data. We had data protection lawyers on the group, which helped with the discussion around this.

The group found the meetings useful, with comments including: 

  • "Very helpful in determining the landscape of work happening in the space!"
  • "I've found [it] useful – the opportunity to hear and discuss data trust s in the wild and [to explore] the relevant work that other groups and individuals are conducting in this area".

For future projects, establishing a group can provide a practical means of working in the open, sharing and learning in a way that goes beyond writing blogs or interacting through social media. We should draw on the expertise and guidance of national and international colleagues and partners to help steer outputs and build relationships.

What we have learned?

The DTEG was set up as a closed group around a specific project, but it could have been done differently, which may have allowed it to evolve. For example, if it had been more of a peer network and if we had held webinars, it could have been a much bigger discussion, involving more people and organisations.

The group made sure that our work on data trusts wasn’t done in isolation. We benefited from having a wider group advise us, and they benefited by being able to learn about what we were doing in this field. The group was mutually beneficial.

Groups such as this can help strengthen existing relationships and start new relationships. It created the space to talk more to people we already had relationships with, for example the European Commission. It also instigated new relationships, such as with the Chinese members, through whom we were introduced to the Shanghai Big Data Centre.