The idea that “data is the new oil” has been thoroughly debunked in a number of places, most recently by John Naughton in the Guardian. The Open Data Institute always worked to correct this and have rightly emphasised the importance of treating data as infrastructure since at least 2016. This is important because data needs sustainability if it is to continue to deliver value and if people are to rely on it to the point where they will build useful things with it: this is true whether the data in question is public, open data or private and restricted.
We’ve been reflecting on this as we recently completed a peer learning programme for data collaborations supported by the ODI and Microsoft. We’ve blogged here a little about it already, but now the programme is finished we’re able to take a bit of time to reflect on it properly. And we think that if data is going to continue to deliver value as infrastructure, then it needs trusted institutions to be in place to support and facilitate that.
What do we mean by a data institution? Our perspective is that any kind of organisation that has some kind of legal basis, that can own assets and facilitate data sharing between a diverse group of stakeholders, and has a mission and sustainable business model to do so can be counted as one. And it is this kind of organisation that we are looking at for the eCargo bikes project.
The Peer Learning Network for Data Collaborations is a blend of facilitated workshops, 1-1 support and peer networking and we were honoured to be chosen to be one of the six global projects involved. The workshops covered topics like ecosystem mapping, anonymisation and trusted computing, data governance and finding sustainable business models, whereas in the peer networking sessions we were able to compare notes with other projects from Scotland, Buenos Aires, India, China, and Scandinavia. Despite the range of projects involved we found a lot of common challenges and solutions too.
As the cargo bike project develops into its next phase, we’ll be firming up the details of our data collaboration, and have recently started exploring an academic partnership that will help us to test out some interesting design approaches to it – so stay tuned for more details on this. For now though, if you are interested in building a data collaboration we would simply advise you to take careful note of the context you are operating in, as that will guide decisions on the form of the institution you create or adapt.
And if you are interested in getting a sensor pack, or want to get involved in the Data Cargo project in some other way, then please get in touch: we are busy building the next version of the sensor packs and data infrastructure to support them.