Responsible data stewardship 'could unlock economic and social value'

Out-Law News | 09 Mar 2021 | 10:05 am | 2 min. read

The use of data governance tools could bring about significant public benefit across a range of industries and bring about positive economic, social and environmental change, according to a new report.

Produced by a working group led by computer scientist Dame Wendy Hall which included Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, the ‘Exploring legal mechanisms for data stewardship’ report from the Ada Lovelace Institute and the AI Council discusses how legal data trusts, data cooperatives and corporate and contractual mechanisms can all help establish trustworthy data sharing initiatives and be powerful mechanisms in the data-governance toolbox.

Data governance expert Sarah Cameron of Pinsent Masons, who sat on the working group, said: “Facilitating responsible data stewardship initiatives between organisations has the potential to unlock significant value for the economy, society and the environment. This is a key focus area of the EU's Data Strategy and its plan for international data spaces and the current Data Governance Act proposals.”

Focusing on the way data can tackle societal and economic problems, the report said it was necessary to explore new data governance models for collectives, governments and organisations that allow data to be shared for individual and public benefit in a responsible way, while managing the harms that may emerge.

The report found there was no one-size-fits-all solution and choosing the right type of governance mechanism for a particular purpose depends on a number of factors. The working group examined how to create an ecosystem of trust when designing corporate and contractual mechanisms, where those involved establish a common purpose, share data on a controlled basis and agree on structure.

According to the report, effective data governance stewardship should lead to the effective and sustainable sharing of data, both for the benefit of those sharing the data and the wider public; ensuring the interests of those with legal rights over data; ensuring data is ethically used and in accordance with the rules of the institution; and making sure data is managed safely and securely.

Those organisations keen to share data should consider several essential steps, according to the working group. First, stakeholders need to align around a clearly defined purpose.

Data provider, data user and data steward considerations will need to be addressed which will then lead to the ability to decide on the appropriate legal structure and rules. Good governance that is transparent and which fits the previous considerations will be critical to establishing the trust required to get such initiatives off the ground.

“The concept of data-stewardship is developing and there are a number of recent projects with stewardship type support under development. Some more mature examples such as UK Biobanks also exist as to examples of how this sort of model can work. This is an exciting area of growth with significant potential to help unlock the value of the data economy with all the societal and economic benefit that can follow as a result,” Cameron said.

The report follows in the wake of an independent 2017 report by Hall and Jerome Pesenti commissioned by the government which proposed the establishment of data trusts as an institutional mechanism to enable the trustworthy stewardship of data by organisations.

The Open Data Institute and the Office for Artificial Intelligence then carried out a pilot data trusts programme to develop thinking on data trusts, which sparked increased interest in the concept from organisations in health, financial services, food safety and provenance, international movement of goods and social housing and infrastructure and energy.

The Ada Lovelace report expands on these pilots, also examining the possibility of using legal data trusts for bottom-up data sharing projects as well as promoting increased organisational data sharing.