Monthly Archives: June 2014

Developing Data Coops for Community Benefit

If the third sector is to move with the times, we believe it is incumbent upon us to increase our understanding of the implications of technological change for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations (VCSEs), as well as to explore how we might harness broad-ranging technologies to help solve persistent social problems.

Personal data protection and use currently occupies hotly contested territory, and serves as the backdrop against which numerous hardware projects (for example, Black Phone and Indie Phone) and emergent ‘data4good’ projects (for example, The Good Data and DataCoup) are being developed. However, whilst their emphasis upon ‘privacy’ and ‘control over personal data’ is deemed of interest, we believe joint venturing underpinned by financial incentives for individuals need not limit the scope of such endeavours to ‘exhaust’ or IoT-derived data. We are therefore interested in investigating the potential to establish Data Coops underpinned by a combination of personal, organisational and public open data. We envisage that such Data Coops would be ‘data asset-locked vehicles’, based upon conscious and circumscribed contribution, and explicitly designed to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefit: so, ‘our data’ rather than ‘big or open data’ per se.

Related to this, we wish to explore the potential for data coops to become distributed ethical impact investment vehicles that are capable of being anchored and harnessed by VCSEs from the point of view of informing policy development. We are mindful that there is already considerable work underway to prototype the use of public and personal data – through, for example, the ODI’s Start-Up Programme and CDEC’s Open Data Health Platform. Nonetheless, we believe that the overarching mission of an organisation could be deployed to motivate organisations as well as individuals to invest their data on an ‘ethical’ footing, rather than to simply secure more narrow financial benefits. Specifically, whilst we recognise that financial incentives will play a part in stimulating data contributions from individuals going forward, a blend of personal, organizational and public open data could notionally underpin the development of VCSE Data Coops – were all concerned motivated by a desire to solve specific social challenges through cooperation with a trusted vehicle. VCSEs could, in turn, seek to generate a financial return through payment by results contracts and/or social impact bonds entered into with the public sector and linked to the release of efficiency savings where they are able to identify new data-driven solutions.

Data Coops – what they could do

  • Facilitate the collection of standard, interoperable data from VCSEs about their activities, their beneficiaries and their impacts
  • Enable Data Coop members to contribute data about their organisations, their activities, their beneficiaries and their impact – to have it analysed, bench-marked and re-presented to them to aid planning, service design and organisational transformation efforts
  • Enable Data Coop members to draw upon anonymised and/or pseudonymised and/or aggregated data contributed by other members, and deploy it to improve organisational processes, service design and implementation, contract and investment readiness, competitiveness.
  • Enable the creation of blended Data Coops capable of mixing personal, organisational and public open data – and, with that, seek to address persistent social, economic and environmental challenges and attract investment and/or payment by results contracts as ‘ethical data-driven impact investment vehicles’.
  • Avoid a situation where private interests are better placed to tell Government what they thinks ‘works’ best – so, prevent them from skewing so-called ‘evidence based policy making and commissioning’ in the future.

Data Coops – how they might work

  • Members supported to collect and contribute data in a standardised manner;
  • Member beneficiaries given the option to contribute their data assets to a Data Coop;
  • Relevant public open data cleaned and inputted to add value to a Data Coop;
  • Interoperable data collated to render it capable of being analysed
  • Organisations’ activities, beneficiaries, impacts benchmarked;
  • The anonymisation / pseudonymisation and deployment of data by the Data Coop to attract investment/contracts to tackle specific social, economic and environmental purposes agreed to in its Memorandum and Articles of Association / by beneficiaries / in keeping with the Government’s licenses concerning public open data use.

Further research to understand how to select a challenge that can be rendered (more) deliverable on a data-driven footing is required: that is, to establish what type of data to pool and how best to deploy it in order to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefits before any practical prototyping effort is considered. We also need to test interest in efforts to develop Data Coops amongst VCSEs themselves.

Thereafter, we would anticipate the need to develop a data asset-lock to protect data contributors – in particular, to prevent the potential for the re-sale of aggregated data for private profit – as well as to engender compliance with pertinent regulations and the confidence that will be required. Further thought is also required in relation to ‘collective intellectual property’ development and management.

But, to begin with, we’d simply like to identify appropriate partners and VCSEs with whom we might work. If that’s you, please contact [email protected] – we look forward to hearing from you!

Harnessing Open Data to Nurture a Digital Civil Society

Technological advancements are transforming the operating context at break-neck pace, and we are concerned about the preparedness of VCSEs, if they are to future-proof their vitally important work and ensure it remains relevant in the face of changing needs, new service delivery channels and opportunities to deliver social impact. In particular, we are concerned to ensure VCSEs are supported to appreciate and engage in the development of intangible (data) and intellectual property assets going forward as per other sectors.

To date, the Government’s efforts have concentrated almost exclusively upon the scope for closer working with HEIs and the private sector to unlock the potential for greater efficiencies and economic growth harboured by technological advancements in respect of data. Indeed, with the exception of investments on the part of NESTA and the Nominet Trust, policy makers and major funders have been all but silent when it comes to working with VCSEs to innovate in the context of our increasingly digital society. Common Futures is a socially conscious business working to uncover where the potential for taking this work forward might lie.

We have contributed to the development of national policy and practice in respect of public open data to benefit VCSEs. We’ve spear-headed cutting-edge work with VCSEs that are grappling with personal and organisational data collection, sharing, analysis and deployment to improve service design and address social problems through the Our Digital Community programme. We’ve also engaged directly in prototyping of our own in the course of working with Locality. Increasingly, our work points towards data deployment by and for VCSEs as a vitally important area of activity that would benefit from being investigated more thoroughly: Making Transparency Work for You 2014

Librarians of the Future?

When Andrew Carnegie made grants to libraries in the C20th, he described them as ‘instruments for the elevation of the masses of the people’. Libraries were to provide access to learning and advancement for people who would otherwise have limited opportunities – specifically, for education and self-improvement. Carnegie intended, then, that the purpose of a library should be educational, and Carnegie envisaged a facility open to everyone in a community who wanted access to books and learning.

The Provision of access to information, knowledge and learning continues to characterise perceptions of the role of librarians in the C21st. And, although libraries are evolving to become read/write, providing access to multi-media and media manipulation tools, we’ve yet to see a thoroughgoing disruption of the C20th institutional boundaries of libraries. That is, we’ve yet to see established a bona fide #p2p platform for the purposes of knowledge exchange founded upon commons principles.

Some libraries have begun to co-locate conventional ‘intellectual property’ with the tools to generate more of the same. Aligning themselves with the pursuit of traditional economic growth even has some libraries formalising that mission. But, intellectual property creates an artificial scarcity of knowledge – and, it subjects innovation to legal restrictions for the purposes of profit maximisation. Traditional intellectual property, in effect, overlooks the long tail – where locally rooted knowledge and know-how is concerned.

The rise of corporate search would have us believe that the long tail – access to all the world’s knowledge – is no longer mere aspiration. But, search engines control the placement of information listing via algorithm, and limit the diversity of information sources to please advertisers. In effect, search represents the very antithesis of the library as an untrustworthy, automated intermediary. Ironically, search also harnesses the long tail of locally rooted knowledge and know-how to profit from collective intellectual property in the form of #bigdata – uprooted from its origins in time and space and disfigured to discern global trends. This, in turn, is giving rise to concerns about the uses to which our collective IP are being put.

How, then, might the library become a trusted #p2p platform for the purposes of producing, exchanging and consuming knowledge and know-how?

Information is, according to some, neutral – and, it is only valuable or powerful when coupled with insight. If information is neutral, and we need to ask the ‘right’ questions to derive genuine insight from it, perhaps we should start here to garner an understanding of what insight may be best obtained from machines, and what may be better obtained from human beings. Then, perhaps we might usefully introduce an Oracle Machine to the #blockchain in a bid to re-establish #p2p knowledge exchange underpinned – once again – by locally rooted #humansearch.

Librarians of the future?