[On Monday] The ODI launch[ed] the findings of our data trust research programme and at high-profile event at the Royal Society of Arts, attended by Head of the UK Government Office for Artificial Intelligence (AI), Sana Khareghani and Theo Blackwell, London’s Chief Digital Officer. The research programme, which concluded in March 2019, is the first in-depth study on the role of data trusts.
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 research programme, which was funded by UK Government, launched three pilots in January 2019, each examining whether a data trust could increase access to data while retaining trust. The pilots ran from December 2018 to 31 March 2019 and focused on diverse challenges: tackling illegal wildlife trade, reducing food waste (both funded by the Office for AI), and improving public services in Greenwich (funded by Innovate UK).
The ODI’s research found that there is huge demand from private, public and third sector organisations in countries around the world to explore data trusts. Whilst organisations have different ideas about what data trusts could do, they are nevertheless enthusiastic and eager to find ways of sharing data whilst retaining trust, and still deriving benefits for themselves and others.
The research revealed that data trusts could be a good approach to data sharing where there are conflicting interests between parties; for example, in the case of the wildlife pilot, between academics collecting data for research and application developers wanting to develop technology to help tackle the illegal trade of wildlife. The legally binding responsibilities and liabilities of the trustees can help generate trust in their decisions.
The London pilot 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. It also looked at data from a social housing communal heating system about energy use in homes. Investigating these use cases has helped the ODI to shape recommendations for next steps in the design and development of a data trust for 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. The UK Digital Competition Expert Panel, led by Professor Jason Furman, similarly identified in March that increasing access to data could be a regulatory tool to improve competition and suggested that data trusts might be used to do so.
- 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.
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