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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Could a data trust benefit your community?

A new programme from The Data Trusts Initiative will providing funding for pilot projects that trial the bottom-up data trusts model in practice.

New uses of data can improve our health, wealth and wellbeing, but careful stewardship is needed to align these aspirations with concerns about the vulnerabilities that data use can bring, for individuals, communities and society. In pursuit of this goal, policymakers and practitioners have been investigating the role that data trusts can play in growing the digital economy while empowering citizens to influence the terms of data use.

Data trusts offer a mechanism for trustworthy data stewardship. They allow individuals or groups to pool their data rights into an organisation – a trust – in which trustees take decisions about data use on their behalf. Amidst growing interest in data trusts as a fresh approach to data stewardship, further action is now needed to develop real-world data trusts that serve community needs.

A new fund from the Data Trusts Initiative will help drive this action, by supporting data trusts pioneers to set up pilot projects that trial data trusts methods in practice.

Announcing the fund, Neil Lawrence, DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning at Cambridge University, said: "In the last few years we've made a lot of progress understanding the role that data trusts could play in data stewardship. The field now needs real-world pilot projects that will lead the way in translating data trusts principles into practice." 

Sylvie Delacroix, Professor of Law and Ethics at Birmingham University, added: "Data trusts aim to empower us, data subjects to 'take the reins' of our personal data. To be effective, we need data trusts that can represent citizen interests and concerns and we need data trusts pioneers to help create these trusts."

The Data Trusts Initiative pilot project scheme, which launches today, is inviting applications from individuals or organisations that would like to set up a data trust. These pilot projects would facilitate independent stewardship of data through the action of data trustees, support individuals and groups to collectively negotiate terms of data use, and provide strong institutional safeguards against data misuse. Pilot projects might come from any sector, and the scheme is open to applications from any country.

In addition to awarding funds to facilitate the set-up of a data trust, the Data Trusts Initiative will support successful applicants through expert advice, workshops and networks to help navigate operational barriers that pilot projects might encounter.

Published by Rachel Gardner on Wednesday 28th July 2021