The opportunity for Agrifood Data Institutions

What we learnt from participating in the ODI’s Data Institutions Mentoring Programme

From the climate crisis to antimicrobial resistance, the challenges facing the agrifood sector today are complex and systemic. They span the food supply chain and cannot be tackled by single organisations acting alone.

As the UK agrifood sector’s primary Data Marketplace, Agrimetrics recognises the value of sharing data to address these challenges.

We also understand that trust and good governance are vital to enable data sharing, and we recognise how data institutions offer an important opportunity to address these concerns. That’s why we applied to join the Open Data Institute’s (ODI) Data Institutions Mentoring Programme.

The ODI, co-founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is a not-for-profit organisation which works with companies and governments to build an open and trustworthy data ecosystem. During autumn 2021, members of our team, with a colleague from AHDB, participated in a series of workshops and discussions with experts from across the ODI, alongside three other participating organisations.

The programme was designed to accelerate each organisation and their collaborators to overcome challenges that could be addressed by establishing a data institution, helping them to design the most effective data governance frameworks for their particular situation.

The Programme created valuable space for the Agrimetrics and AHDB team to explore topics including:

  • Data literacy and data skills – people’s ability to understand data and think critically about how it is used and communicated, and the different skillsets that are needed for organisations to use data successfully.
  • Data stewardship – making decisions about who has access to what data, for what purposes and to whose benefit, and ensuring that the conditions exist to enable this.
  • Data ecosystem mapping – plotting out where data is currently held, how it flows between organisations, and who is deriving value from it (for which, we found this tool particularly useful).

What you should know about data institutions

Data institutions are organisations that “steward” data on behalf of others, often to create public benefit.

Data institutions are still a young and rapidly evolving concept. There are pioneers building data institutions in different sectors for diverse purposes, but there is no single approach to doing so and no guide to follow, so best practice is still being developed.

“Data trusts” are perhaps the best-known type of data institution, but they are far from the only one – the Data Economy Lab have identified nine models, whilst the ODI highlight six roles that such institutions play. Choosing the right model starts with understanding the problem; identifying stakeholders and the value they seek vs the concerns to be addressed; and being clear about the purpose the data institution will serve.

Data institutions offer an important opportunity to facilitate safe and secure access to data, providing control over:

  • Who can access the data
  • What data can be accessed
  • How that data can be accessed
  • What that data is used for

These require data governance frameworks that consider and address stakeholder needs around governance processes and procedures, decision-making authorities, legal frameworks, organisational need, technology considerations and more.

The opportunity that data institutions present for the agrifood sector

The possibility to connect data from multiple sources, without fear that sensitive personal or commercial data will be compromised, creates scope for agrifood organisations to build a clearer picture of their business and those around them.

At an organisation level, this can help identify potential problems or opportunities more readily, making it easier to make decisions that will improve productivity or profitability.

At an industry level it creates an even more exciting opportunity to tackle big challenges related to issues such as environmental sustainability, animal or crop health – among many others.

What next?

One outcome of Agrimetrics’s participation in the Programme is that we are now leading on a review of the food data landscape on behalf of the ODI. This work aims to identify data sharing and innovation needs and opportunities, in support of building a more sustainable food supply – we look forward to sharing our findings in the coming months.

We’re also involved in a number of other initiatives that bring organisations together around data, such as advising:

  • AHDB as they develop a data governance framework for a future “Digital Grain Passport”, a digital data hub allowing data to flow seamlessly up-and-down combinable crops supply chains.
  • Satellite Applications Catapult and Embrapa on data governance frameworks to share commercially sensitive agricultural data across international supply chains.
  • Livestock Information Service on assessing data access requests.

Now, more than ever, there’s a need to catalyse more effective use and sharing of agrifood data, and this is the role Agrimetrics plays. Our goal is that by the end of 2022, data institutions will be recognised as driving tangible improvements and value within the UK agrifood sector.

“So many of the sector-wide problems we face can only be resolved through collaboration between organisations, who need a trusted framework if they’re to share data and create new analytics and value. Agrimetrics’s work around data governance and data institutions highlights the impact we can all have as we strive towards better ways of farming, powered by data”
Rebecca Geraghty, Chief Commercial Officer, Agrimetrics

Rebecca Geraghty
March 31, 2022
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