Digital data are everywhere. They are replicable, generative, storable, scalable, nonrival and nonexcludable. Digital data are different enough from time and money - the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed - that it's time to redesign those institutions.
It's time for institutional innovation.
Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are familiar corporate forms that manage private monies (and time) for public benefit. Their corporate structure, reporting, and governance requirements direct resources to the public mission and provide bulwarks against misuse of financial resources. There is nothing in their corporate code or governance structure that equips them to do the same with digital data.
We need a new type of organization to manage and protect digital data for public benefit, especially digital data that is voluntarily contributed by individuals or other organizations.
There are a lot of building blocks for something like this. We know a lot about governance, digital data, and organizations. We have lots of models from participatory development to community based data collection to trust forms. We have ethical scaffolding in biomedical research and digital data collection that we can draw from. There are legal experts, design thinkers, experienced digital data users, digital rights activists, research reports and people from vulnerable communities who can inform the design of new structures.
There are many driving forces and vested interests. A map like this one - for this issue - would be helpful.
It's time that we:
- Assume digital resources are here to stay
- Get past pilot projects and stop acting like using digital data is a one-off action
- Develop systems and standards for using digital resources well and safely
- Use what we know from adjacent sectors, and
- Reinvent organizational governance - possibly reinvent organizations - to manage digital data for mission.