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ODI report explores the case for building data trusts

Data trusts could provide a good approach to data-sharing particularly where there are conflicting interests, according to a new study from the Open Data Institute.

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Data trusts would take on responsibility for decisions around data-sharing
Data trusts would take on responsibility for decisions around data-sharing

Data trusts could provide a good approach to data-sharing particularly where there are conflicting interests, according to a new study on their potential role.

 

The research programme from the Open Data Institute (ODI) found that there is “huge demand” from private, public and third sector organisations in countries around the world to explore data trusts.

 

Data stewardship

 

The ODI defines a data trust as a “legal structure that provides independent stewardship of data”. The trustees of a data trust take on responsibility to make decisions about what data to share and with whom to support the purpose of the data trust and the benefits it is intended to bring.

 

The legally binding responsibilities and liabilities of the trustees can help generate trust in their decisions.

 

As part of the UK Government-funded research programme, three pilots were launched, each of which examined whether a data trust could increase access to data while retaining trust.

 

The pilots ran from December 2018 to March 2019 and focused on diverse challenges: improving public services in Greenwich (funded by Innovate UK); tackling illegal wildlife trade; and reducing food waste (both funded by the Office for AI).

 

The London pilot (Greenwich) looked at how a data trust can bring together commercially sensitive information from electric vehicle car charging point suppliers, car club operators and smart parking sensors about the availability and use of charging points and parking spaces.

“By creating the right framework, data trusts can strengthen citizens’ digital rights while building stronger foundations for innovation in London’s digital economy and public services"

It also looked at data from a social housing communal heating system about energy use in homes.

 

The ODI said investigating these use cases has helped it shape recommendations for next steps in the design and development of a data trust for London.

 

“This groundbreaking work has helped us understand how data can be used to design new apps and digital services with privacy, trust and security at their heart,” said Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer.

 

“By creating the right framework, data trusts can strengthen citizens’ digital rights while building stronger foundations for innovation in London’s digital economy and public services. This is a practical start on an increasingly important issue and we’re looking forward to seeing how this concept can be developed across London.”

 

The research also found that:

  • Data trusts give individuals and smaller organisations greater ‘say’ over how data is managed than they would in other relationships with larger organisations, especially when the data is about them or its use affects them. This is a responsibility of the trustees.
  • There might be circumstances where governmental or philanthropic organisations should mandate or fund data trusts for specific global, national or local challenges. Scenarios benefiting from data trusts could include work on climate change; UN sustainable development goals; or understanding the impact of online advertising, as examples.
  • There is no one approach to building a data trust, because each one needs to reflect its particular circumstances and risks. The multidisciplinary network which is now emerging around data trusts will make it easier for organisations to create a data trust by sharing learnings, case studies, frameworks, delivery guidelines and ways to mitigate risks and harm to individuals or society.
  • Data trusts are defined by a governance structure with independent stewardship by trustees, who have legally binding responsibilities to make decisions aligned with the purpose of the data trust. Existing legal structures can be applied to data trusts.
  • Data trusts need robust governance processes that balance accountability to users with effective, timely decision-making.

“The pioneering work undertaken as part of this project can help us build trust between law enforcement agencies, NGOs and the technology community, enabling them to share data fairly and safely,” added Sophie Maxwell, programme lead at Wildlabs Tech Hub, which was involved in one of the pilots.

 

“This work is vital to help us break down the barriers to data-sharing, where a repeatable, easy- to-use legal framework has great potential to boost our collaborative efforts. We are keen to secure new funds to move into implementation, to establish a data trust for sharing intelligence and AI approaches.”

 

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