Open Data Institute releases funding for ethical data sharing projects

Seven projects that explore different approaches to ethical and trustworthy data sharing are being funded by the Open Data Institute to help citizens and businesses make better decisions

The Open Data Institute (ODI) is funding seven UK-based projects to explore how data can be shared in more ethical and trustworthy ways.

The Stimulus Fund is part of ODI’s ongoing research and development (R&D) programme – a four year-long, £8m initiative funded by national innovation agency Innovate UK – which aims to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.

The overall aim of the initiative is to help the ODI with wider research into Data Institutions, Data Trusts, and other data access initiatives to encourage more organisations to consider different routes to sharing data.

The aim of data trusts, which were first explored by ODI in November 2018, is to create a system of data pooling between organisations – both government departments and private entities – which will allow them to share siloed data in a safe, fair and ethical way, in the process unlocking its potential value to society.

In addition to the funding received, which is between £15 to 20k for each project, the ODI will support and help grow them through collaborative working, and will provide expert guidance and assistance until March 2021.

Climate-related projects include Your Dsposal, a not-for-profit social enterprise that uses tech and data ethically to increase transparency and accountability in the waste sector; Open Climate Fix, a non-profit research lab committed to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible; and DNV GL, an independent risk management and quality assurance firm that will explore how new business models could use data sharing to support decarbonisation and clean growth.

“DNV GL believes that through its unique position at the intersection of the digital domain and energy transition space, it is well placed to support the ODI to explore the potential revenue models, funding sources and cost structures that can be adopted to become sustainable open data solutions as part of the overall energy transition within the UK,” said Graham Faiz, digital innovation lead at DNV GL.

“Leveraging our position as a trusted independent third-party and building on our Veracity open industry data platform, we are delighted to be working with the ODI on this strategic topic and look forward to supporting them with this initiative as part of our engagement.”

Open Data Manchester (ODM) is also set to receive funding, but differs in its focus on helping hundreds of small-scale energy and eco-efficiency cooperatives share data among their members.

“With regards to data, cooperatives are in quite a unique space because they’re intrinsically democratic organisations, so there will be some kind of representation or governance process where every member’s view should be represented at a board level, which means that you’ve got already got an environment of enhanced trust,” said Julian Tait, chief executive at ODM, adding that the relationship most people have with their current energy providers is “slightly begrudging” and one of “general dislike”.

“If you’ve got an environment where you’re sharing data within the cooperative, they can understand my energy requirements [and]… you can start to design more responsive energy systems – that’s a bit harder to do, or it’s done very opaquely, in regards to the large energy providers.”

He added the funding will help ODM work with Carbon Cooperative to design how a data cooperative could look. “Ultimately, what we want to see come out this process is [whether] a model set of rules can be created that can be adopted by other energy cooperatives, so they don’t have to go through the same process again,” he said.

“As with all data trusts and mutual data organisations, we’re still at the very early stages of this so we’re not really seeing much activity – there is a few, but they’re very rare, so this work should enable us to get that much further to embed that practice.”

Other projects include the ODI Leeds’ #OpenDataSavesLives, which is looking at creating a reliable data infrastructure to help the global pandemic response; Etic Lab, a digital research and design consultancy exploring cross-organisational data collaboration to support people without access to the legal expertise and advice they need; and Collections Trust, which aims to build consensus on how all 1,700 UK museums might sustainably share their collections data with both internally and externally.

“These seven projects show the potential that sharing data has to solve challenges in the energy and health sectors in the UK and globally. It’s great to see people coming together to solve challenges that affect us all, like the cooperative using smart meter data to help individuals make better decisions on their climate impact,” said Leigh Dodds, director of delivery at the ODI.

“We want to help these projects succeed. Our experience of ethical data sharing and improving data infrastructure, like supporting and growing data institutions and data access initiatives, will help these projects become sustainable for the benefit of all. We look forward to working with the projects to also learn from them and help to develop tools and guidance that will support the development of other impactful initiatives.”

The ODI was co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence expert Nigel Shadbolt to show the value of data, and to advocate for the innovative use of data to affect positive change across the globe.

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