3 barriers to successful data collaboratives

Article by Federico Bartolomucci: “Data collaboratives have proliferated in recent years as effective means of promoting the use of data for social good. This type of social partnership involves actors from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors working together to leverage public or private data to enhance collective capacity to address societal and environmental challenges. The California Data Collaborative for instance, combines the data of numerous Californian water managers to enhance data-informed policy and decision making. 

But, in my years as a researcher studying more than a hundred cases of data collaborativesI have observed widespread feelings of isolation among collaborating partners due to the absence of success-proven reference models. …Below, I provide an overview of three governance challenges faced by practitioners, as well as recommendations for addressing them. In doing so, I encourage every practitioner embarking on a data collaborative initiative to reflect on these challenges and create ad-hoc strategies to address them…

1. Overly relying on grant funding limits a collaborative’s options.

Data Collaboratives are typically conceived as not-for-profit projects, relying solely on grant funding from the founding partners. This is the case, for example, with TD1_Index, a global collaboration that seeks to gather data on Type 1 diabetes, raise awareness, and advance research on the topic. Although grant funding schemas work in some cases (like in that of T1D_Index), relying solely on grant funding makes a data collaborative heavily dependent on the willingness of one or more partners to sustain its activities and hinders its ability to achieve operational and decisional autonomy.

Operational and decisional autonomy indeed appears to be a beneficial condition for a collaborative to develop trust, involve other partners, and continuously adapt its activities and structure to external events—characteristics required for operating in a highly innovative sector.

Hybrid business models that combine grant funding with revenue-generating activities indicate a promising evolutionary path. The simplest way to do this is to monetize data analysis and data stewardship services. The ActNow Coalition, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization, combines donations with client-funded initiatives in which the team provides data collection, analysis, and visualization services. Offering these types of services generates revenues for the collaborative and gaining access to them is among the most compelling incentives for partners to join the collaboration.

In studying data collaboratives around the world, two models emerge as most effective: (1) pay-per-use models, in which collaboration partners can access data-related services on demand (see Civity NL and their project Sniffer Bike) and (2) membership models, in which participation in the collaborative entitles partners to access certain services under predefined conditions (see the California Data Collaborative).

2. Demonstrating impact is key to a collaborative’s survival. 

As partners’ participation in data collaboratives is primarily motivated by a shared social purpose, the collaborative’s ability to demonstrate its efficacy in achieving its purpose means being able to defend its raison d’être. Demonstrating impact enables collaboratives to retain existing partners, renew commitments, and recruit new partners…(More)”.