Cutting edge research into data trusts

Office for AI, Innovate UK

The Open Data Institute (ODI) is an independent, non-profit organisation founded in 2012. Their mission is to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data. They work with companies and governments to build an open and trustworthy data ecosystem.

The challenge

In 2018, the ODI joined forces with the UK Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence and Innovate UK to assess data trusts (which are legal structures that provide independent stewardship of data) as an approach to potentially increase trust and access to data.

Together, they created a research project focused on answering the question: ‘Can data trusts increase or help data sharing?’. This included exploring how decisions are made about data sharing, the legal landscape and requirements needed in order to make it work, the economic function of data trusts and more.

Register Dynamics was commissioned to explore new technology for data trusts and to provide a report on these findings.

What we did

We examined the role of external audit in building reputation and improving trust in organisations that use data. We explored how different organisations approach the challenges currently inherent in auditing data and discovered that organisations could demonstrate trustworthiness through being vouched for by a qualified auditor and by using audit technology and verifiable data to record purpose at point of use.

We presented three case studies from organisations that are already doing this with Government, including Deepmind Health and their link with NHS and the ONS and UK Data Service’s 5 Safes framework.

We also outlined the technology behind these approaches, which included Merkle tree-based logging, in order to better understand their effectiveness and use in external audit.

The result

Our report “Putting the trust in data trusts” forms a key component to the ODI’s Data trusts research programme. The findings have helped to shape on-going discussions and debates around the usefulness of data trusts and what emerging technologies support this.

Our own conclusion is that whilst best practice around verifiable data is still emerging, it is already being applied usefully and can allow organisations to demonstrate trustworthiness when paired with an independent, recognised auditor. We are delighted to have been a part of this important research and believe that it is an area that will continue to evolve.