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The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright QC will today announce that the Open Data Institute (ODI) will lead two pilot projects in conjunction with the government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence – a team which spans the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – to examine how a 'data trust' could increase access to data while retaining trust.

The new pilot projects will establish if this new approach – where a legal structure provides independent third-party stewardship of data – is useful in managing and safeguarding data, for instance, data about cities, the environment, biodiversity, and transport.

CEO of the ODI, Jeni Tennison, announced that it will also be working on a further pilot project to prototype a data trust with the Mayor of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich. City Hall is working with the ODI on data trusts as part of its Smarter London Together Roadmap to support AI and protect 'privacy by design' for Londoners.

This Greenwich project will focus on real time data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and will investigate how this data could be shared with innovators in the technology sector to create solutions to city challenges.

Future data trusts could take advantage of the Urban Sharing Platform that the Mayor of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich are developing together in their Sharing Cities programme. The platform enables the collection and sharing of live data from the city, for example: energy use, parking space occupancy and weather, while maintaining the privacy and security of Londoners.

The pilots are the first of their kind in the UK. The ODI will work in the open and with other organisations and experts from around the world to explore the model. Following the pilot projects, the ODI will make proposals for the use of data trusts in future.

The ODI defines a data trust as ‘a legal structure that provides independent third-party stewardship of data’. This structure and stewardship provides benefits to a group of organisations or people. Those benefits might include enabling them to create new businesses, helping research a medical disease, or empowering a community of workers, consumers or citizens.

City Hall has committed to piloting a data trust as part of its Smarter London Together Roadmap. Theo Blackwell, London’s Chief Digital Officer said: “As a city we need to explore new methods of providing assurance when data is shared. Using data trusts can help address some of our city’s most pressing challenges, while also keeping personal information safe and secure for all Londoners. We’re proud to partner with the Open Data Institute as it demonstrates our clear commitment to collaborating in new ways that can help make our city smarter.”

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the ODI said: “In 2018 we have become much more aware of who has access to data – data about ourselves, our family, our friends and our work. While we see many benefits from the use of data, such as being able to find local exercise classes using data from leisure centres thanks to OpenActive, or plan a train journey quickly and easily with an app using route and timetable data, there has also been misuse and harm, as we saw in the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Data trusts are a potential new way to help realise the benefits while preventing the harm. We're keen to explore them to find out where they might be useful. ”

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “We are a world-leader in artificial intelligence and our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain which is fit for the future. But it is crucial that the public have confidence it is being used to improve people’s lives and we have the right expertise and framework in place to maximise its potential.

“I am pleased we have secured global leaders from academia and industry to work alongside us as we develop the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and explore the potential of data trusts.”

The ODI will also create an independent advisory group of people and organisations exploring the concept of data trusts around the world. It will provide initial findings from both the advisory group and the pilot projects in early 2019. The pilots are part of a wider innovation programme by the ODI looking at ways to increase access to data while retaining trust.

Image credit: CC0 by Max Pixel