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The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation has awarded funding to help the ODI further explore and advance its data institutions programme. Data institutions help sustain open, trustworthy data ecosystems across a variety of sectors, regions and contexts.

Access to the right data can help us to tackle the economic, societal and environmental challenges of our time. But data also needs to be protected and governed responsibly, to limit the harms that it might cause to people and communities.

At the ODI, we’re exploring data institutions – organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims – as a way of balancing these needs and providing trustworthy, sustainable access to data.

We’re delighted to have recently been awarded grant funding by the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation to help us establish the programme. The McGovern Foundation supports advances in AI and data science for good, and shares our interest in exploring how data institutions can drive economic, societal and environmental impact.

Some data institutions are emerging to support people and communities to take a more active role in stewarding data about themselves, such as data co-ops or data unions. Others support organisation-to-organisation data sharing and use across different sectors and ecosystems. In health, UK Biobank stewards genetic data and samples from around half a million people and supports their use for research, and in manufacturing OpenApparelRegistry collates and makes available vital open data about the location and conditions of factories around the world.

This year, we set up the data institutions programme to advance the theory and practice of data institutions. The programme seeks to bring about a future where there are data institutions stewarding data on behalf of others in ways that drive positive economic, societal and environmental impact, in many different sectors, regions and contexts.

We have a mix of live projects where we’re helping to create new data institutions and improve the practices of existing ones, including through research into how data institutions sustain themselves financially and by supporting the INSIGHT Health Data Research Hub to involve the public and patients in its stewardship of eye scans.

We’ll be using the grant from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation to support our efforts to:

  • expand the international reach and impact of the programme, by identifying and engaging with new international stakeholders and networks, and deepening our relationship with others.
  • develop clearer positions and messaging related to data institutions, such as by raising the profile of particular topics or issues and helping other organisations to understand how to support them in their strategies, policies and investments.
  • be more proactive in identifying opportunities to apply and test data institutions in different sectors, to bolster our responsiveness to inbound requests and ideas.
  • shape small research projects to complement those we’re already working on, such as by developing new explainers or guidance.
  • document and evaluate some of our work, to begin to understand the programme’s impact and the activities we should invest further in.

The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation supports several other global initiatives focused on data sharing and use, so we’re also looking forward to learning from their experiences, and being connected with and learning from this work. We also hope to join the foundation in conversations happening in the US around data governance and stewardship.

We believe data institutions are a key facilitator towards our wider mission of building an open, trustworthy data ecosystem. We’re delighted to now have a mix of public, private and philanthropic funding behind it, to broaden and accelerate our work.