There is huge demand from private, public and third sector organisations in both the UK and overseas to explore data trusts, with most participants enthusiastic and eager to find ways of sharing data while retaining trust, and still deriving benefits for themselves and others.
That is the key finding of Open Data Institute research, funded by the Government, on the back of three pilot programmes launched 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, and improving public services in Greenwich.
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.
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, the report states.
ODI chief executive Jeni Tennison 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."
Business Secretary Greg Clark added: "Access to data is pushing forward huge technological change that can benefit our economy, provide better services to consumers and lead to the creation of new highly skilled jobs. Fundamental to this opportunity is that organisations maintain the trust of their customers and use data responsibly.
"I’m pleased that this research shows clear enthusiasm here in the UK and abroad for data trusts, ensuring data can be used to support new innovations while also maintaining people’s privacy."