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Use cases for 'data trusts' to be explored in the UK

Potential use cases for so-called 'data trusts' are to be examined in two pioneering projects to be led by the Open Data Institute (ODI) in the UK.22 Nov 2018

Precise details of the two projects have still be announced, but the ODI, a non-profit advocate of open data, said they will look into whether data trusts are "useful in managing and safeguarding data, for instance, data about cities, the environment, biodiversity, and transport".

The work of the ODI on the projects will be supported by the government's Office for Artificial Intelligence, which is a unit spanning the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the government said the work of the ODI and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) would "explore the future potential of data trusts quicker and more efficiently". It said data trusts "will allow two or more organisations to share data in a safe, fair and ethical way so they can work together to tackle problems such as recycling, food waste or speeding up construction projects".

Jeni Tennison, ODI chief executive, said: "Our work across the world has highlighted that alongside getting value from data we need to retain trust in how it is used and shared. Data trusts are a potential new way to help realise the benefits of data while preventing any harmful impacts. We’re delighted to be exploring them further with the Office for AI to find out where they might be useful."

The announcement about the ODI and OAI collaboration was issued on the same day that the government issued its response to an earlier consultation on the role, objectives and focus of the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) and appointed a new board to run the body.

In its consultation paper, the government had endorsed the idea of data trusts (25-page / 278KB PDF). It advocated the development of "novel data sharing frameworks, such as the data trusts proposed" in an earlier government-commissioned review into how to grow the AI industry in the UK.

Data trusts can help "facilitate the sharing of data between organisations holding data and organisations looking to use data to develop AI", that review said.

The government's response to the CDEI consultation (21-page / 248KB PDF) acknowledged there is support within academia and the business community for "the development of frameworks such as data trusts" to improve access to data and in turn support "research and innovation in AI". The government did not otherwise explicitly reference 'data trusts' in the document, but said the work of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation could encompass "working with stakeholders to identify and assess effective and ethical frameworks for sharing data".

In its announcement, the ODI said it will work with the Mayor of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich to "prototype a data trust" in a separate project to the ones it will engage with the OAI on.

"This Greenwich project will focus on real time data from internet of things (IoT) sensors, and will investigate how this data could be shared with innovators in the technology sector to create solutions to city challenges," the ODI said.

"The pilots are the first of their kind in the UK. The ODI will work in the open and with other organisations and experts from around the world to explore the model. Following the pilot projects, the ODI will make proposals for the use of data trusts in future," it said.

The ODI said that it plans to set up an independent advisory group of people and organisations exploring the concept of data trusts around the world, and said that initial findings from the pilot projects and the work of the group will be shared in early 2019.

Tennison said: "While we see many benefits from the use of data, such as being able to find local exercise classes using data from leisure centres thanks to OpenActive, or plan a train journey quickly and easily with an app using route and timetable data, there has also been misuse and harm."

"Data trusts are a potential new way to help realise the benefits while preventing the harm. We’re keen to explore them to find out where they might be useful," she said.