Aotearoa New Zealand Data Commons Project

A workshop on biodiversity data sharing and sovereignty highlighted that we all benefit when researcher can communicate, collaborate and share data. Data sharing is key to identifying large-scale trends, answering the big questions and data modellers need access to multiple big data sets to tackle ‘wild problems’. However, data sharing is a complex issue. Data access requires the removal of legal and financial barriers, technical solutions around storage and access and an understanding of the issues around data sovereignty including the need for Māori governance of data that are uniquely Māori.

So while data sharing and reuse at scale can create significant value for all parties it only works if particpants can create and maintain a high-trust relationship.

Existing models for enabling data sharing/intergration/reuse fail because they do not address how to maintain a high-trust relationship. The dominant approach tends to build technically focused point solutions that are highly specific to the particular context they are operating in. Moreover, data reuse interests tend to address only their own needs – frequently overlooking the interests of the data contributor. At best there is lip service to consent, minimal personal control for the contributor, or at worst coercive harvesting of data. Because these attempts fail at trust, they become costly and hard to scale. The alternative proposed here is to establish a Data Commons.

A commons-based approach builds trust and scalability by adhering to a set of principles and goals which embed an inclusive and open approach to data for everyone who is participating in the commons. In addition, by setting up a “protocol-based approach” the Data Commons is scalable and lower-cost.

The idea of establishing a Data Commons as a means to put these principles into action was first proposed by James Mansell in April 2015, in a report to the New Zealand Productivity Commission called Handing Back the Social Commons. Since then, the idea of establishing a Data Commons for New Zealand has generated a growing amount of interest and offers of support.

In June 2016 the New Zealand Data Futures Partnership, the NEXT Foundation, the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, and Infection agreed to co-fund the development of a blueprint for an alternative model to enable data sharing in New Zealand.

The project had two deliverables:

  • The formation of a network of interested volunteers in New Zealand who have a range of technical expertise and a deep interest in data integration and reuse. EXP Ltd (part of the Enspiral collective) was contracted to convene an open conversation, using online tools such as Loomio and Gitbooks, a series of workshops and interviews, and a two-day retreat with this group of volunteers.
  • The outcome of those conversations was the second deliverable, the Data Commons Blueprint, where the conceptual thinking behind the idea of a “Data Commons” approach is outlined, the high-level design features that will make it work, and the steps required to build one.

The New Zealand Data Commons Blueprint is published under an open Creative Commons license so that other people can extend the conversation.

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