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Data institutions

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At the ODI we’re exploring ways of increasing access to data while retaining trust. We’ve established a new programme to advance our work on data institutions, which we see as having an important role to play in this

People to talk to about this

At the ODI we’re exploring ways of increasing access to data while retaining trust. We’ve established a new programme to advance our work on data institutions, which we see as having an important role to play in this.

Watch our Exploring Data Institutions event

Watch the event video in your own time, or share with your team – all talks and panels are on YouTube

The role of data institutions

Access to the right data can help us to tackle the big challenges we face – from the earlier detection of disease to reducing pollution in urban spaces.

Ensuring that data is available to address these challenges, in ways that don’t cause harm to people and communities, requires responsible data stewardship. Data institutions are organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims.

Our initial work on data institutions has found that they already play a number of vital roles, including:

  • holding data on behalf of an organisation or person, or group of them, and sharing it with others who want to use it for a particular purpose. UK Biobank, for example, was set up in 2006 to steward genetic data and samples from around half a million people, and continues to support their use for health research.
  • combining or linking data from different sources, and providing insights and other services back to those that have contributed data. In the maritime sector, HiLo takes data generated by around 3,500 ships globally to generate vital risk and safety analyses related to lifeboat accidents, engine room fires and other incidents.
  • creating open datasets that anyone can access, use and share to further a particular mission or cause. OpenCorporates, Open Apparel Registry and 360Giving each collate and make accessible important open data, about companies, factories and funding respectively.
  • developing and maintaining common data infrastructure for a sector or field, such as by registering identifiers or publishing open standards. In the UK, Open Banking Limited was established in 2016 to develop standards and guidelines to drive competition and innovation in the retail banking sector.

There are also a variety of data institutions emerging to support people and communities to take a more active role in stewarding data about themselves. These include data co-ops, data unions, data coalitions, and bottom-up data trusts.

What the data institutions programme aims to achieve

At the ODI we work with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.

The data institutions programme will further this mission by:

  1. making significant advances in the theory and understanding of data institutions, and the roles they can play.
  2. working with organisations to create new data institutions in different sectors and fields.
  3. enabling existing organisations to recognise their role as data institutions and to steward data on behalf of others more effectively.

The programme is also a home for related ideas and approaches – including data intermediaries, data spaces, data collaboratives, data collaborations and data access initiatives.

What types of work does the data institutions programme do?

The data institutions programme helps organisations, people and communities build new data institutions, and supports existing organisations to steward data on behalf of others more effectively.

The programme does this by:

  • Conducting pioneering research into the theory behind data institutions.
  • Providing advisory services and training to people, communities and organisations building data institutions.
  • Supporting data institutions in their early stages.
  • Developing guidance and tools related to data institutions.
  • Advocating for data institutions and responsible data stewardship.

Our work on data institutions is international in scope. We’ll continue to learn from and collaborate with others around the world exploring data stewardship, including organisations such as The GovLab, Aapti Institute and Nesta, and networks such as those convened by MyData Global, Mozilla and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Work with the data institutions programme

There are different ways to work with us on data institutions.

  • For organisations, people or communities looking to build a data institution or adapt an existing organisation, use our existing guidance and tools, see if we are currently running a stimulus fund or peer network, or get in touch if you think we could support your work.
  • For funders looking to advance the concept of data stewardship and data institutions, talk to us about our plans for the programme and help us to identify opportunities for data institutions in particular fields or for particular purposes, or we can make introductions to others in search of support.
  • For consultancies and independent experts working to apply data institutions, we hope our research and existing guidance and tools will be useful in your work, and get in touch if you’d like to work on something together.
  • For governments, think-tanks and other policymakers interested in the role of data institutions and related topics, take a look at our research or join us to discuss their policy implications and how to create an enabling environment for them.
  • For academics and others exploring data institutions, find out about opportunities to collaborate on research or about becoming a research fellow of the programme.

There’s more information about the work we’ve completed on data institutions so far and the plans for our programme in this document. It is open for feedback, so feel free to leave your comments or suggestions directly.

If you would like to discuss data institutions with us then please email Jack Hardinges, our Programme Lead for Data institutions, at: jack.hardinges@theodi.org.

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