Setting up institutions to steward data can create benefits for organisations, people and communities through data being used more widely. But data contributors need to be able to determine whether they should share data with or through the data institution; data users need to know whether to use data from it; and people, organisations and communities affected by the data institution need to assess whether to support its operation or campaign against it. These judgements rest on the question: is this data institution trustworthy?
To explore this topic, the ODI carried out desk research into trust and trustworthiness, and the ways existing institutions make themselves trustworthy and trusted. We also reviewed and built upon our earlier research on data trusts and data institutions. This was complemented by interviews with representatives from the following data institutions:
Data institutions are organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims. For these institutions to achieve this purpose, they need to be both trustworthy and trusted. Some data institutions, however well intentioned, could fail to operate in an effective and trustworthy way, possibly causing harm. In addition, data contributors and other stakeholders need to assess whether they should work with a particular data institution or not.
There are some things that a data institution must do, for example to comply with laws and regulations, but there are others that, while not mandated, will help a data institution build and maintain trust.
A trust framework, combined with an understanding of the ecosystem of trust surrounding a typical data institution, can give a clear understanding of what is expected of a data institution, and what mechanisms are available to assess and to demonstrate its trustworthiness.
Many mechanisms and tools are available for data institutions to adopt. And much that is needed to design a trustworthy data institution can be derived from exemplars in organisational design and governance elsewhere. Other mechanisms, such as certification programmes for data institutions, need to be developed, tested and integrated in the ecosystem.
This exploratory research from the ODI ran in parallel to a related project on designing sustainable data institutions. Both projects have highlighted that trust and sustainability are deeply connected, requiring strong governance and ongoing community engagement.