Open Data Institute to help museums agree framework for data-sharing

Collections Trust has been awarded funding and mentoring from the Open Data Institute (ODI) to explore how all 1,700 museums in the UK might share their collections data with each other and with a range of other users. The project, which runs until March 2021, is being supported via the ODI’s Stimulus Fund, under its Innovate UK-funded R&D programme.

Kevin Gosling, CT Chief Executive, said, “One of Collections Trust’s strategic aims is to influence the development of a sustainable, future-proof infrastructure for sharing UK museum collections content. This welcome support from the ODI is a timely opportunity to build a shared, sector-wide understanding of what needs to happen – and why it needs to happen now. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we’ll start with what we’ve all learned in a quarter-century of trying to crack this.

“One of the ODI’s co-founders, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, first developed the web in 1990. Within five years, the UK museum sector was thinking seriously about how to bring together the nation’s collections online. Progress was made, only to fizzle out as sector responsibilities chopped and changed. Today the UK is just about the only European country that lacks this capability.

“The barriers are not technical, or even financial, but more to do with strategic vision, policy commitment and sustainable organisation. The ODI has done a lot of work on various types of data institutions in different sectors and this project gives us a chance to consider what might work best for UK museums – not just over the next three-year funding cycle, but for many decades to come.”

The project will first draft a framework that responds to known sector needs and seeks to dovetail existing initiatives such as Art UK’s data harvester, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections programme (DiSSCo), the Preservation to Presentation project, and the various strands of AHRC’s £19m Towards a National Collection research.

It will then seek consensus about the framework across the sector, with the aim of inspiring policy changes at a governmental and sectoral level. “The ODI’s experience and reputation will give this approach to solving our sector’s systemic data-sharing problem significant weight,” says Kevin Gosling.

Collections Trust was one of seven organisations to receive funding. All the projects explore approaches that enable trustworthy and ethical sharing of data to help citizens and businesses lower their impact on the environment, save lives and improve public services. Leigh Dodds, Director of Delivery at the ODI, commented, “At the ODI, we want to help these projects succeed. Our experience of ethical data sharing and improving data infrastructure, like supporting and growing data institutions and data access initiatives, will help these projects become sustainable for the benefit of all.”