The Open Data Institute (ODI) today launched the findings of its data trust research programme, the first in-depth study on the role of data trusts. The research found that data trusts could be one way in which organisations can share data and unlock its potential value, without losing people’s trust.

The research programme, funded by the UK Government, launched three pilots that ran from December 2018 to March 2019. Involve worked on the pilot with Greenwich and GLA to explore what form a data trust could take. As part of the project we engaged some London citizens to explore their hopes, expectations and fears about the concept of a data trust that collected data from heat sensors in homes and parking sensors.

Maintaining the trust of people and the organisations to which data relates is vital - particularly as awareness of data handling, following controversies involving Cambridge Analytica and others, has increased - if data is to be shared in positive ways. The research programme found that data trusts could be particularly advantageous where the data is sensitive or there are conflicting reasons for organisations who hold, share or use the data to access it.

Suzannah Lansdell, Associate at Involve said:

"A data trust derives its legitimacy and by extension the trust of stakeholders and the public from its capacity to enable, encourage and benefit from collective discussion, reasoning and decision making. our work on the Greenwich pilot showed there are key points where a data trust needs to actively and deliberatively engage with its stakeholders and the public to confidently build trust and demonstrate benefit."

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the ODI said:

‘We only unlock the full value of data when it gets used, so we really need to find good ways to share data more widely without putting people at risk. We have learnt a huge amount from our research about how data trusts can help, and are very grateful to everyone who worked on the pilots with us, but there is more to do. We need to understand more about how data trusts should be monitored, audited and regulated so we can trust them. We need more pilots, such as the wildlife pilot, to be funded to move into the next phase. We also need more research into other data access models such as data cooperatives, data commons and people-led data trusts which may sometimes be more appropriate.’

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 ODI found that there is huge demand to explore data trusts from private, public and third sector organisations in countries around the world. 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 ODI recommends that data trusts are explored in more detail, as one potential way of increasing access to data by other organisations who could better understand how people use transport, energy and other socially and commercially valuable information, without compromising the trust of the people and organisations to whom the data relates.

To find out more or get involved in this research, please visit  http://theodi.org/article/odi-data-trusts-report/