International co-op research effort focuses on data and governance

Researchers, co-op leaders and activists are looking at how co-ops, trusts and other collaborative models can democratise the data that is collected about us

Co-operators and researchers from eight countries are taking part in a research sprint to explore new pathways for the democratic governance of collective data.

With concerns over data ownership and privacy growing in the era of online commerce and social media, the co-op movement has long been debating the issue, which presents challenges and opportunities for co-ops active in sectors such as retail, agriculture and health.

As part of the ongoing response to this, The Platform Cooperativism Consortium – based at the New School, New York City – and Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society have launched a Fall 2021 research sprint, called Alternative Data Futures: Cooperative Principles, Data Trusts, and the Digital Economy.

The project brings together a cohort of early-career researchers, co-operative leaders, and activists from eight countries across four continents.

Around the world, a growing number of governments, businesses, and citizen collectives are turning toward data trusts, data co-operatives, and data collaboratives as possible answers for responsible, commons-oriented data management.

A data trust is a legal entity that collects and manages personal information on behalf of its members. Research organisers say that through co-operative or public data trusts, privacy can be better protected, public services can be enhanced, and groups that are underserved by regulation can benefit.

Participants in the research sprint will examine existing data co-operatives and explore the data needs of the communities that co-operatives serve, asking questions such as: How can the histories of the various forms of co-operatives inform the structure of co-operative data trusts?

Across a range of sectors, including health, fisheries, and social media, what kinds of challenges do data trusts help to address and how do communities benefit? Participants will investigate difficult social, legal, and technological problems linked to community ownership and data governance with the help of world-renowned experts on the data economy and platform co-operatives.

From advancing research in this emerging field to actively generating new community-facing projects, the ultimate aim of this sprint is to benefit the global ecosystem of platform co-ops by envisioning concrete ways in which co-operative principles can be applied to participatory data governance.

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