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 – we look forward to hearing from you!

5 thoughts on “Developing Data Coops for Community Benefit

  1. David Wilcox

    Hi Anne-Marie – this looks like great idea. Have you looked at the NESTA-funded work Data Driven Methods for understanding Below the Radar Activity in the ‘Social Economy’
    Also, Drew Mackie and I are developing local asset and social network mapping processes that might tie in well.

    1. annemarie Post author

      Hi David – thanks – yes, all good stuff, and your interest welcome/noted. Let’s arrange to talk some more about the potential for fit – Annemarie

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