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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Do you have an idea about the action needed to design real-world data trusts? The Data Trusts Initiative – a new initiative from this Department and collaborators at Birmingham University – has launched its research programme, offering funding for research projects that help bridge the gap between discussions about how data trusts could work and their practical application.

Existing laws already provide a variety of data rights, but exercising them can demand considerable knowledge, time, and energy, especially in today's rapidly evolving data environment, where data is being used and re-used in different ways. Data trusts offer a new mechanism to achieve trustworthy data sharing.

Data trusts are legal structures that can enable independent stewardship of data. A data trust is a mechanism for individuals to take the data rights that are set out in law and pool these into an organisation - a trust - in which trustees make decisions about data use on their behalf. These trusts have received widespread attention in recent years from policymakers across the world. Further action is now needed to identify how data trusts could help tackle real-world data governance challenges.

The Data Trusts Initiative is an interdisciplinary programme based here in the Department of Computer Science and Technology that pursues research at the interface of technology, policy and the law to better understand the role data trusts can play in addressing the challenges of data governance in the 21st century. As part of its work, the Initiative – which is supported by a donation from the Patrick J McGovern Foundation – is offering research grants for projects that can help bridge the gap between discussions about the potential of data trusts and their practical application.

Researchers from both within and outside the University of Cambridge are invited to apply for funding to pursue research in areas where further insights are needed to help develop data trusts. Examples of relevant areas include:

  • Core concepts in data trust design: What core capabilities must sit at the heart of any data trust? What are the incentives for different individuals, groups or organisations to engage with data trusts?
  • Participation, inclusion and digital equity: Which interventions can help make data trusts accessible to all in society? What mechanisms for participation can ensure that all those in a trust can meaningfully contribute to decision-making?
  • Institutional safeguards: Beyond those safeguards provided by trust law, what mechanisms for accountability would help ensure that a data trust effectively represents those it serves?
  • Finance and economics: What business models could data trusts use to achieve financial sustainability? What interventions would be needed to support a plurality of data trusts?
  • Lessons learned: What lessons from previous research or experience could be applied to advance the development of data trusts? For example, what existing case law or experiences of participatory governance are relevant?
  • Implementation issues: In what areas might there be a demand for data trust, and what use cases could help clarify how data trusts would work in practice? What support will data trustees need to perform their role? How could legal frameworks in civil law jurisdictions be adapted to fulfil the role of data trusts?

Proposals that address issues not covered above, but relevant to the design and establishment of data trusts, are also welcome.

Awards of up to £15,000 will be available. To submit a proposal for funding, please complete and submit the form by 10:00 am GMT on 29 January 2021.

For further information, please review the FAQs below or contact

For further information about the context and areas of interest for the Data Trusts Initiative, please visit and consider the Initiative’s first Working Paper (Data Trusts: from theory to practice).

For further information, see the funding call FAQs here.

Published by Rachel Gardner on Thursday 17th December 2020