“Don’t misuse data – keep your promise – allow data givers some choice - ask them in big decisions”

Public participant feedback, workshop on data trusts

We have just completed our work with the Open Data Institute exploring the concept of a data trust through a pilot project with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Greater London Authority.  

A data trust is a legal structure that provides independent stewardship of data, for an agreed purpose. Its aim is to increase trust in data sharing – to unlock the value of data while protecting people, communities and organisations from its potential harms.

Our work focused on the decision-making process for a data trust and particularly those decisions that might benefit from a more deliberative approach.  The report of the work was published by the ODI at the launch of the three pilot project findings: theodi.org/data-trusts

Some of our key conclusions were:

  • The benefits and risks of data sharing will be seen very differently by the different groups with a stake in the data trust. Smart application of deliberative methodologies at specific points in the decision-making cycle will be a critical tool for ensuring that these differences are made visible to everyone with a relationship to the trust.
  • Our work with participants suggests that public trust is likely to flow from seeing a clear benefit and purpose for the data trust, and that the pursuit of that purpose and benefit is clearly demonstrated.
  • A data trust derives its legitimacy and by extension the trust of stakeholders and the public from its capacity to enable, encourage and benefit from collective discussion, reasoning and decision making. From scoping and design of a data trust through to close down we identified key points where a data trust would need to actively and deliberatively engage with its stakeholders and the public to confidently build trust and demonstrate benefit.
  • The act of creating a data trust is a public statement about intent. Our work with participants suggests that this will raise certain expectations which will need to be met if trust is to be built and maintained. Participants highlighted their high expectations in relation to who will benefit, how the data trust will operate, and on levels of transparency.

What did the public think?

As part of the project we undertook a small workshop with 15 members of the London public to find out what they thought of the concept of a data trust, exploring their expectations and hopes and fears.  Whilst this was a small group, it gave an initial insight into what would need to be addressed in the development of data trusts. Some of the key themes were:

1. For participants to have trust in the data trust - it had to be watertight and squeaky clean, both in terms of operations and the safeguards and measures in place to assure security of data. 

“make sure the whole system is not hackable …it’s watertight..they have to seriously work on that..”

Public participant from workshop on data trusts

“Will money talk or will trustees say ‘no, you’re not going to have that?’”

2. People’s trust in a data trust was balanced on the purpose it served and the benefit it could give back generally and individually and that being proved on an ongoing basis.

 “If it’s being shared in the government towards good things…if they’re doing something that I could possibly benefit from, the whole community, the whole city can benefit from, then it can be used to change things.”

Public participant from workshop on data trusts

3. Ultra-real time transparency was expected – what data is being held about them, what it is being used for, who has it been shared with, what is the benefit and can they opt out. 

“I would like to know exactly what data is being used and how it will be used”

4. People were less concerned about a monetary benefit for themselves, they wanted to see data used for better services if it was accessed. They did not want data accessed for revenue alone – it had to be serving the overall purpose of the trust.

 “..don’t sell it to anyone, not the highest bidder..but for improving things..”

5. There was real caution around bad actors and the potential for “bad” uses of the data – particularly the potential for corruption in the data trust and data being used for surveillance. People were averse to profiteering from their data and data trusts being the thin end of the wedge to a more dystopian future of tracking, control, manipulation and taking decision-making control away from people.

“No spying on people even if it’s for good or not…”

Public participant from workshop on data trusts


Read the reports

Report on Greater London Authority and Greenwich Data Trust Pilot

Designing Decision-Making Processes for Data Trusts: Lessons from Three Pilots

For links to all the reports and the project see: http://theodi.org/article/data-trusts-decision-making-report/