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Could ‘bottom-up data trusts’ help to tackle the climate crisis?

Tue Nov 30, 2021
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We are working with the Global Partnership for AI, the Aapti Institute and the Data Trusts Initiative to assess the feasibility of creating new, ‘bottom-up data trusts’ to tackle the climate crisis

We are working with the Global Partnership for AI, the Aapti Institute and the Data Trusts Initiative to assess the feasibility of creating new, ‘bottom-up data trusts’ to tackle the climate crisis

‘Bottom-up’ approaches to data stewardship are designed to empower people – usually those who have generated the data or the people that the data is about – to play a more active role in deciding how the data is used. Open Humans, for example, enables people to explore, analyse and share data about their health, and make it available for citizen science projects. Driver’s Seat helps gig economy drivers to pool data about them to understand and optimize their working hours.

Data trusts are a particular form of bottom-up data stewardship. According the Global Partnership for AI, they ‘allow data producers to pool their data (or data rights) and facilitate collective negotiation of terms of use with potential data users, working through independent trustees who are bound by strong fiduciary duties, within a framework of technical, legal and policy interventions that facilitate data use and provide strong safeguards against mis-use’.

At the Open Data Institute (ODI), we’ve recently started a new project with the Global Partnership for AI (GPAI), the Aapti Institute and the Data Trusts Initiative to assess the feasibility of creating data trusts to tackle pressing climate issues which forms part of GPAI’s wider programme of activities on ‘Enabling data sharing for social benefit through data trusts’. The project builds on collaborative research undertaken earlier this year to explore global perspectives on data trusts which investigates emerging operational strategies for data trusts, and found a strong interest in the topic but no current examples in practice, and the work of the GPAI Committee on Climate Action and Biodiversity Preservation, whose recent report included a recommendation for governments to develop and test data sharing mechanisms such as data trusts. Over the next five months, we will:

  • identify climate issues where there are opportunities to empower people to collect or share data using data trusts, through desk research and interviews with expert climate stakeholders.
  • work with experts to co-design data trusts to address three climate issues, exploring the types of data they could bring together, the uses of data they could support, the technologies they would need to use and other functional considerations.
  • critically assess the feasibility of developing those data trusts, based, for example, on whether people have rights to access the data required and the commitment among stakeholders to play a role in developing them.
  • create a thorough roadmap outlining how at least one climate data trust could be developed, including recommending the role for GPAI to play going forward.

We will publish our findings in a report in spring 2022, which we hope will set out the potential for data trusts to tackle the climate crisis, and also provide practitioners and policymakers with frameworks that could be used in other contexts (such as the feasibility criteria we will develop).

We are committed to exploring a broad range of climate issues, and data uses that could support adaptation as well as mitigation. As with our previous work with GPAI, we will seek perspectives from low- and middle-income countries in this work. The Aapti team is already engaged with and has a breadth of knowledge on the data stewardship landscape in South Asia, and we’re hoping that together, and along with the Global Partnership for AI, we can reach – and support the participation of – a broad range of stakeholders from different parts of the world in this project.

If you work in the areas of data stewardship, AI or climate change and would like to get involved in this project, please contact us at datainstitutions@theodi.org. We are especially interested in finding participants for our expert interviews and organisations to participate in co-design workshops.