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In April 2020, we were delighted to announce our partnership with Microsoft. As part of Microsoft’s wider Open Data Campaign, it was designed to advance the cause of open, trustworthy data sharing and collaboration, such that any organisation of any size can more easily collaborate around data and realise its benefits. The partnership connects to the Open Data Institute’s (ODI’s) data institutions programme, which is exploring and helping to bring about new approaches to stewarding data responsibly.

To achieve this goal, we embarked on a three-year programme of work to:

  • support Microsoft to publish open data and run an Education Open Data Challenge to encourage its use.
  • identify and support three data collaborations to tackle pressing climate issues.
  • run peer learning networks that provide data collaborations with guidance, funding and other support.
  • provide support to other data collaborations initiated by Microsoft as part of its Open Data Campaign.

In this blogpost, we reflect on our learnings so far and share what we’ve achieved in the second year of our partnership.

Experimenting with data collaboration

We continue to come across a huge variety of new approaches to collecting, maintaining and sharing data being imagined and experimented with. We’ve seen interest in ‘data spaces’ grow, and the ODI itself has worked with the Global Partnership of AI to understand global progress on ‘data trusts’, as part of its work to explore ways to empower individuals and communities around their data. The UK government has set out an interest in ‘data intermediaries’ and their role in tackling pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

We’ve also encountered new technological approaches to data sharing, including federated learning, homomorphic encryption and differential privacy. Recently, the review into health data led by Professor Ben Goldacre has argued for the use of Trusted Research Environments to be used to enable secure access to medical records and other sensitive data.

This combination of creative institutional design and new technologies offers promise in terms of helping to responsibly open up data that would otherwise be kept private for reasons of privacy or commercial sensitivity. The variety in approaches has been reflected in the new data collaborations we’ve supported as a partnership team this year, which has included:

  • Contributing to the design of AI4BetterHearts, a data collaborative from the Novartis Foundation, Accenture and Microsoft which aims to help stakeholders – from policy makers to patients — make better decisions about heart health and improve the health of entire populations.
  • Mapping data ecosystems with Friends of Ocean Action to help them think through the data services they are creating to bring about more resilient oceans.
  • Providing training on data ethics and risk management as part of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s efforts to build capacity among middle and senior management across national statistics offices in the Global South.
  • Contributing to Zero Carbon Humber, a partnership to build the world's first net-zero industrial region and decarbonise the north of England, supporting the development of a trusted data environment to enable both open data to be shared and insights from sensitive data to be used, at a national scale.
  • Supporting the London Data Commission’s Data Sharing Pilot ‘Optimising the location of new EV charging points in London’, through workshop facilitation and contribution.
  • Working with Microsoft in its partnership with the World Health Organization, supporting the development of a playbook to provide lessons learned for other organisations engaged in data transformation.

We’ve made use of different ODI tools – including Data Ecosystem Mapping, the Data Ethics Canvas and the Sustainable Data Access Workbook – in this work.

We’ve also worked on and published case studies to inspire others about the potential for new approaches to data sharing. These have focused on:

  • Project Odysseus, a project from the Alan Turing Institute, which transitioned from gathering data on air quality to monitoring the ‘busyness’ of London to help inform the city’s Covid-19 response.
  • The Water Incident Database, currently being developed by different organisations from the National Water Safety Forum to help reduce the number of drownings in the UK.
  • The Social Data Foundation, a partnership between the University of Southampton, the City Council and the University Hospital to enable health and social care data to be used more effectively.

Data for climate

Data has a vital role to play in helping us understand and tackle the climate crisis, from predicting extreme weather events, to improving the energy efficiency of our homes and helping to identify deforestation.

During the past year, we have focused on supporting data collaborations that are focused on better understanding or addressing climate change. This has included:

  • Contributing to the development of the Water Incident Database, an initiative designed by the National Water Safety Forum to help achieve the goals set out in the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy. We were pleased to facilitate workshops on data ecosystem mapping, as well as provide guidance on data ethics and data governance.
  • Engaging with the Open Data Charter’s work with the Uruguay government to stimulate the use of open data in support of increasing civic participation and environmental adaptation on coastal lines.

In general, these data collaborations have looked to the partnership team to help them  understand complex data ecosystems (both current and desired), design data governance (how decisions could and should be made about the data in question) and explore sustainable business models (in acknowledgement of trustworthy data sharing needing investment and support).

We will continue to prioritise supporting data collaborations working to address climate challenges in the coming year.

Open data needs stewarding too!

Amid all of the interest in new approaches to share data, open data – data that anyone can access, use and share – can sometimes feel lost.

In October 2021, we invited a group of seven organisations whose primary purpose is to steward open data to join our Peer Learning Network:

  • Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) – an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments, aimed at providing open access to data about all types of life on Earth.
  • MetaBrainz Foundation – a non-profit organisation and global community creating and maintaining an open encyclopaedia of music and arts metadata, such as MusicBrainz.
  • Open Apparel Registry – a neutral, free, and open-source data tool mapping garment facilities worldwide and allocating a unique ID to each.
  • Open Contracting Partnership – a silo-busting collaboration across governments, businesses, civil society, and technologists to open up and transform government contracting worldwide.
  • OpenStreetMap Foundation – a non-profit foundation whose aim is to support and enable the development of freely-reusable geospatial data, closely connected with the OpenStreetMap project.
  • Wikimedia Foundation – a non-profit charitable organisation dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, such as Wikipedia.
  • WikiRate – a not-for-profit organisation which supports the largest open-source registry of environmental, social, and governance data in the world, providing an open, collaborative tool for asking and answering important questions about corporate impacts.

The Peer Learning Network is designed to provide knowledge-sharing opportunities for groups of similar organisations, as well as support and guidance from the ODI and Microsoft, and produce learning materials for others to use and be inspired by. We were delighted by the engagement between this second group of open data peers, which enabled us to produce a series of detailed publications (including blogposts, videos and graphics) on:

The biggest change we made between the first and second cohort of the Peer Learning Network was shifting from us providing support and running workshops as a partnership team, to focusing on facilitating roundtables and knowledge sharing. This allowed participants to not only share learnings, but also ask and respond to reflective questions during the roundtables about factors that influence and impact their work.

Read more about our reflections from supporting this vital group of open data organisations.

We’ll continue to share updates on our partnership as it progresses. If you have questions or ideas regarding this work, or would like to get involved, then please email us.