News & Events


How BPE is leading the way in the future of data sharing

What is a data trust?

A data trust (sometimes called a data institution) is a legal framework with independent stewardship which facilitates data ‘pooling’ for the purposes of running analytics and obtaining insights in response to agreed problem statements.

This framework allows multiple organisations to submit data to the trust fairly and securely, in response to multiple, rolling projects. In return, the members receive data analytics and reports (without receiving the underlying data itself) based on the data for public or industry benefit. Only through common rules for data security, competition, privacy, and confidentiality are members of the trust able to collaborate in this way.

Why do we need data trusts?

Business is seeking to create large, potentially complex, datasets over which to run AIs to obtain valuable statistical insights. These insights derive from the given problem that the AI is instructed to investigate, and the problem chosen is typically driven by the need to find more efficient ways of working.

In order to create datasets of sufficient size to deliver meaningful insights, society needs to share data as never before. Not just by ubiquitous bilateral data sharing, but through multi-party data sharing at industry level, cross-industry level and with public bodies.

Obstacles to sharing data include concerns around security, confidentiality, proprietary rights, regulatory concerns, technology for handling data and a sheer lack of trust in the data’s accuracy, provenance and status. If we can overcome these obstacles, it is anticipated that insights from big data will help us manage some of the difficult issues we face today: climate change, a more equal access to healthcare, and help us efficiently manage factors of production and reduce waste.

What can the data be used for?

A data trust is the foundation for an effective enterprise analytics programme. The trust will engage data analytics providers who are matched to relevant projects and plug into the data. Data ‘feeds’ from the trust can be set up and provided in a variety of ways: from an email with a large spreadsheet of data reporting contained within it, to an API data feed (depending on how manual or automated users require it) or through a federated model of semi-permanent data connections. Sometimes the data being processed is personal, sometimes not: depending on the problem to be solved or issue being covered by the analytics.

What could inspire the creation of a data trust?

BPE has been able to apply their experience and knowledge of both technology and third party ownership of data, to explore and demonstrate how data trusts can be used practically and effectively.

Case study 1 – Sharing Cities Transport and Energy

In 2021, BPE Solicitors in Cheltenham worked with the Open Data Institute on a data institution pilot scheme for the Greater London Authority (“GLA”) and Royal Borough of Greenwich (“RBG”). The GLA and RBG both had interest in trialing the role of data institutions as a solution to the concerns around data sharing. In order to act as a proof of concept, RBG provided access to two pilot project examples: Sharing Cities Transport and Energy case studies. The role of the GLA is to provide data analysis and storage capacity and to potentially promote the implementation of a data institution model across all 33 boroughs to improve decision making.

Case study 2 – Construction Data Trust

In 2022, BPE have been working with the Construction Data Trust (“CDT”) which is expected to be the UK’s first fully functioning data trust, due to ‘go live’ in spring 2022.  CDT aims to transform how construction projects are delivered by leveraging insights from historic data at the industry level.  Each time a project is managed end to end, it creates a huge amount of data which is rarely revisited. CDT will take this data, connect it across projects, organisations and industry, and run advanced analytics and machine learning to predict how projects will perform in the future, giving the industry more confidence to deliver projects on time, within budgets and efficiently. This approach is expected to transform how professionals in the construction industry and beyond will view project data. BPE are structuring the legal framework to enable the CDT to act as a neutral steward for the ethical and fair sharing of data.

How to create a data trust

Structuring the legal framework to enable a data trust to act as a neutral steward for the ethical and fair sharing of data to deliver the aims set out above involves the preparation of Members Participation Agreements, scheme Rules, governance documents and outsourced managed service agreements with the platform’s technology provider(s). These latter agreements are the main agreements that the trust procures and administrates. These suppliers will deliver the central infrastructure and the database services that form the core of the data trust platform.

Once live, the data trust leadership, in consultation with its members, will identify and select given problems. These problem statements are then turned into separate projects, with independent third-party analytics providers commissioned who will be able to plug into the central architecture to run analytics specific to each project. At the heart of the data trust legal framework lies a community liability model that acknowledges the data trust as a not-for-profit body, and ring fences its liability. The data trust is largely held harmless by its members, but acts on behalf of its members to pursue any claims that may arise against its suppliers and vice versa. This model makes the data trust sustainable, keeping its value to members as its database enriches over time.

If you would like to learn more about data trusts, or to look into the possibility of creating one, please contact Sarah Kenshall (sarah.kenshall@bpe.co.uk 01242 248475).

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

Get in touch

Talk to us about your legal challenges and discover how our expert, pragmatic legal advice and broad commercial acumen can help.