What does alternative data governance look like in practice? Who is shifting power between data collectors and data subjects in meaningful ways? With a team of regional researchers, Mozilla Insights gathered examples of 110 organizations, companies and projects around the world. We describe our research methods and detailed findings in a Global Landscape Scan and Analysis.
We hope to expand the database on an ongoing basis. If you founded a project or know about one that should be included, let us know.
Download the full report: Global Landscape Scan and Analysis
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This was by no means a comprehensive scan, but we are confident in saying that this is an emerging field, with extremely few examples in many categories.
As for categories, we chose to classify initiatives as neutrally as possible, according to key benefits, beneficiaries, types of data and degree of access. Few initiatives highlight data governance structures as a component of their own work, and theoretical definitions of approaches often lack clear characteristics to differentiate them from others.
Most of the initiatives we found stem from North America and Europe. There are certainly examples of alternative data governance in other world regions across sectors of health, transportation, technology, research, government, environment, but there appears to be a regional imbalance with few initiatives to be found even searching in local languages.
Mainly, it is evident that the most frequent terms used in English to describe data governance are not commonly known by even seasoned digital rights advocates in multiple regions. These terms are neither easily translated nor widely circulated as solutions to problems.
Common language and framing matters, but the likelihood of whether data governance innovation exists (in any region) also seems to depend on a variety of additional contextual factors, including: Is there data privacy regulation? Is there data literacy among consumers and civic groups? Is there a significant data economy? Are there traditions of cooperatives in other domains? Are there many open data initiatives? Are there connectivity challenges? Are human rights and surveillance overriding concerns? What funding exists for experimentation?
Our database is not comprehensive enough to draw conclusions about the entire field, but among the initiatives we logged we saw a few tendencies. We noted that initiatives in the health and technology sector were the most common in our database. In the health sector, initiatives often aim to benefit the general public or particular groups or communities, while initiatives that we placed in the technology sector tend to aim to benefit individuals.
On a similar note, initiatives that aim to benefit individuals tend to offer control over personal data, while initiatives that aim to benefit particular groups or communities are often focussed on making data more available or accessible to them (but not necessarily offer control).
In terms of regional tendencies, only in Latin America did we find a few examples of initiatives that offer individual control over personal data. The majority of initiatives we identified in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America were related to making more data publicly available or accessible. It seems that ‘alternative data governance’ is most commonly understood as a form of open data, where data is shared publicly, rather than managed according to the interests of particular beneficiaries.
Case study: COVID-19
We logged numerous local and global data initiatives that responded to the COVID-19 global pandemic in the past half year. We assess that the majority of these were created by organizations who were able to respond quickly by applying data governance approaches they had already deployed before the pandemic for a different purpose. In other words, there is clearly innovation sparked by COVID-19, but not necessarily on alternative data governance approaches. Exemplary approaches for privacy-preserving contact tracing among several initiatives suggest that there is potential to advance such existing solutions further.
How could more innovation and experimentation be supported? As a byproduct of our research so far, we encountered dozens of organisations that play a supportive role in the global ecosystem of data governance innovation. These are not included in our database so far, but they are entities that play a role in defining and refining this emerging field around the world.
Among them are funders and public and private investors, software developers, intersectional advocacy groups, digital rights organisations, open data and open science communities, infrastructure service providers, business and nonprofit consultants, and researchers. Understanding how such entities operate in local contexts with local epistemologies would help us better assess what kind of support is needed for this field to evolve in a positive direction.
Ten example initiatives
What is happening in practice? We picked 10 initiatives from the database to give a taste of the range of initiatives we looked at worldwide. You can also browse the full database, and read our analysis which delves into differences between sectors and regions too.
Description: Initiative to map threats to the Amazon and Indigenous territories.
Region: Latin America
Why it stands out: Gives voice to Indigenious communities and shows the connection between Indigenous rights and environmental destruction.
Description: COVID-19 contact tracing app that preserves privacy.
Why it stands out: An initiative started by a non-profit with support from the Czech Ministry of Health.
Our Brain Bank
Description: A patient-led movement designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients.
Why it stands out: Combines community support with data collaboration between patients and researchers focusing on a rare type of cancer.
PySyft & PyGrid
Description: Open source software libraries to enable secure, privacy-preserving machine learning and data science.
Why it stands out: Aims to change industry standards and enable the use of AI technology while preserving privacy.
Description: Glimpse Protocol connects companies to consumers while respecting the privacy of individuals as required by GDPR and CCPA regulation.
Why it stands out: Enables brands to reach precise audiences without collecting their data while complying with data privacy regulation.
British Columbia First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative
Description: In the Canadian province of British Columbia, the initiative supports First Nations with the technological and human resource capacity to govern and own community data.
Region: North America
Why it stands out: Supports the self-determination and well-being of an Indigenous community by enabling it to own, control, access, and possess information about its people.
Description: MIDATA shows how data can be used for the common good, while at the same time ensuring citizens’ control over their personal data.
Why it stands out: The non-profit cooperative operates a data platform, acts as a trustee for data collection, and guarantees the sovereignty of citizens over the use of their data.
Description: DECODE creates open data commons from data produced by individuals and devices, enabling citizens to control and share their data for the common good on terms that are fair and transparent.
Why it stands out: The combination of smart rules running on distributed ledger technologies will produce a platform that is fully decentralized and allows flexible, extensible data governance.
Driver’s Seat Cooperative
Description: A driver-owned rideshare cooperative, empowering gig workers and local governments to make informed decisions with insights from their data.
Region: North America
Why it stands out: Collects and sells mobility data to city agencies so they can make better transportation planning decisions. When the Driver's Seat Cooperative profits from data sales it shares the wealth by distributing dividends to the driver-owners.
Raval Data Commons
Description: A data commons created by various local actors, in the district of Raval in Barcelona, Spain.
Why it stands out: Participatory governance, data about and from citizens, managed by citizens.
We welcome further input and feedback to our database and analysis! This work forms part of a long term research project to understand alternative data governance around the world.