Microsoft and the ODI – helping bridge the data divide

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The ODI has partnered with Microsoft to launch its Open Data Campaign which aims to ‘help address the looming ‘data divide’ and help organisations of all sizes to realise the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers

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The ODI has partnered with Microsoft to launch its Open Data Campaign which aims to ‘help address the looming ‘data divide’ and help organisations of all sizes to realise the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers.

What Microsoft and the ODI are working to achieve

In April 2020, we announced that Microsoft had joined the ODI’s Commercial Partnership Programme.

The objective of the partnership is 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 is part of Microsoft’s wider Open Data Campaign launched in April 2020. As part of the campaign, Microsoft adopted a new set of principles to guide how the company approaches sharing data with others, committed to launching 20 new collaborations by 2022 and will invest in new tools and assets that help make data sharing and publication easier. As well as the ODI, Microsoft is partnering with The GovLab and other organisations to help deliver on these commitments.

Our approach

Together, we have designed a three-year programme of work that will:

  • support Microsoft to publish open data and run a challenge around some of this data to encourage its use.
  • identify, scope and launch three new data collaborations that are aligned with a priority area or theme.
  • run a peer learning network that provides up to ten data collaborations with guidance, funding and other support.
  • provide support to other data collaborations initiated by Microsoft as part of its Open Data Campaign.

While things are likely to change in the coming months and years, we’ve planned out what this work will look like in the first year of our partnership.

Publishing open data and running a challenge

Working closely with Microsoft’s Open Innovation Team, we’ve begun to scope a small open data challenge that will launch and run in the autumn of 2020.

The challenge will involve Microsoft publishing open data around a particular theme and together we’ll support and encourage its use, such as by curating guidance and tools to help others to work with it. We’ll apply what we’ve learnt in running similar challenges in the past, such as the Open Data Challenge Series, the Open Contracting Innovation Challenge and the OpenActive Accelerator.

As part of this work, Microsoft has already published open data on broadband usage in the US from its Airband Initiative. This data will form part of the challenge and will be added to other interesting datasets from Microsoft and beyond in the coming months, and we’ll continue to provide guidance to them on best practices for publishing open data.

As well as generating insightful new analyses, combinations and visualisations of data through the challenge, Microsoft making data available in this way helps to further our longstanding goal of supporting companies to be more open with data, and we hope this activity has an influence on other large organisations.

Launching new data collaborations

Microsoft’s Open Data Campaign seeks to bring about and support data collaborations that address significant social, economic and environmental challenges.

Some of these collaborations, like the data challenge, may involve the publication of open data that anyone can access, use and share; others will involve data sharing between different organisations. For example, one recent project involved Microsoft sharing aggregated data from the COVID-19 tracker on its Bing search engine with medical researchers, government agencies and academic institutions. Some data collaborations may involve the collection and use of both open and shared datasets.

In the first year of our partnership, we will work with Microsoft to identify priority areas within a particular sector or domain – such as climate change – where data collaborations are most needed. We will need to design a robust approach for doing this and intend to work with experts in that space. This process could look similar to our work over the past year with the Wellcome Trust, where we have identified pressing health issues across the UK, sub-Saharan Africa and India that can be meaningfully addressed with data science.

Our target is to then work with Microsoft and others to launch a new data collaboration in three of these priority areas, beginning with scoping one data collaboration in this next year. While it’s hard to say now what these data collaborations will look like, we’re interested in those that:

  • address a clear societal, economic or environmental challenge.
  • involve a group of different organisations, such as companies, research institutions, and/or government entities.
  • can benefit from Microsoft and ODI contributions, such as through access to data, funding, or technical expertise and guidance.
  • reflect the Microsoft’s Data Collaboration Principles of: Open, Usable, Empowering, Private, and Secure.
  • are structured in such a way that learnings can be shared with other organisations to help them advance their own data collaborations.
  • ultimately demonstrate meaningful impact from the collection, use and/or sharing of data.

From an ODI perspective, some of these collaborations may take the form of new data access initiatives or data institutions.

We hope that these data collaborations aren’t only impactful in terms of tackling a particular challenge, but also enable us and others interested in data sharing and collaboration to learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

Running a peer learning network

As well as kick-starting new data collaboration in key areas, we will also support emerging data collaborations from across different sectors by running a peer learning network.

The premise behind the peer learning network is that setting-up and running new data collaborations can be difficult, and that those involved can learn from the experience and expertise of others.

In the next couple of months, we want to better understand what types of support we can usefully provide through the peer network, and our experiences in running similar networks in the past – such as the Open Data Leaders Network and the Data Trust Exploration Group – will inform its design. At the least, we will create opportunities for peer learning and networking, access to Microsoft and ODI advice, and funding for the data collaborations to take part.

As part of our R&D programme, we are currently running a stimulus fund for nascent data access initiatives and data institutions, focused on helping them explore options for sustainability, which we will also learn from and adapt for this context.

We are aiming to launch an open call for the peer network in the autumn this year, at a similar time to the open data challenge, and we’ll support a further cohort in 2021.

Supporting other data collaborations from Microsoft’s Open Data Campaign

Microsoft has committed to developing 20 new collaborations by 2022. While some of these data collaborations will emerge and be supported directly through our partnership, we’ll provide input into others where it’s useful.

For example, we’ve begun to provide advice on data publishing to the Microsoft team who are working with the Alan Turing Institute, the Greater London Authority and Kainos to develop an air quality dashboard for London. We’re interested to learn more about what we can do to support this and other data collaborations.

A big part of this work will also involve developing and publishing case studies, guidance, tools, frameworks or other learnings that can help people, communities and organisations outside of our partnership to collaborate around data publication and sharing.

The launch of our partnership with Microsoft demonstrates a commitment to supporting the creation of new data collaborations, and advancing the tools and resources to make data sharing easier. Acting as a critical friend, we look forward to working with Microsoft and using their influence to create a broader open and trustworthy data ecosystem.

Get involved

We will share regular updates on our work as the project progresses, and if you have questions or ideas regarding this work, or would like to discuss it further then please email [email protected].