The Open Data Institute (ODI) has said early research has highlighted the potential of data trusts to provide a good approach to data sharing in the use of technology.
It has published the results of its first round of pilots with a claim there is a big demand from public, private and third sector organisations to explore the possibilities as they are eager to find acceptable ways of sharing data. The mechanism could help to build public trust through the legally binding responsibilities of the trustees.
But they would also need robust governance that balances accountability to users with effective, timely decision making.
The data trust programme, which has received financial backing from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the support of the Office of Artificial Intelligence, is exploring the potential of the trusts as legal structures to provide independent stewardship of data. This could provide a route to resolving some of the ethical issues around the use of data in new technologies.
The ODI pilots covered: data from electric vehicle parking spaces and domestic heating sensors in Greenwich; the possible creation of a data trust focused on food waste and sales; and the Wildlabs Tech Hub to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife.
According to its report, they have shown that data trusts can give individuals and smaller organisations a greater say over how data is managed than in other relationships with larger organisations as it is a responsibility of the trustees.
There could be circumstances in which government or philanthropic organisations should mandate or fund trusts for specific challenges. The report points to the possibilities for working on climate changes and developing a regulatory tool to improve competition.
Another finding is that there is no one approach to building a data trust because each one needs to reflect its particular circumstances and risks. The ODI says the multidisciplinary network that is now emerging will make it easier to create data trusts by sharing learnings, case studies, frameworks, delivery guidelines and ways to mitigate risks.
It also says it is currently difficult to estimate the effort needed to build and operate a trust as a number of currently unpredictable factors are involved.
The report makes a number of recommendations for organisations looking to set up trusts, which include considering where they should be mandated or funded, and developing tools to enable people to assess their trustworthiness.
ODI chief executive Jeni Tennison (pictured) 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 recently set up a group with members from the UK and overseas to provide input for the pilots.