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Exploring principles for data stewardship

A case study analysis

An open set of case studies exploring principles for data stewardship

18 September 2020

Project lead
Reema Patel
Project member
Aidan Peppin

Responsibly collecting, storing, sharing and using data is key to unlocking its potential. If we get the governance right, vast amounts of rich data and help conduct health research, make cities more environmentally friendly, empower consumers and communities, and more. Getting the governance right means people’s and communities’ data rights are protected and the use of data is fair, equitable and focused on social benefit.

At the Ada Lovelace Institute, we are committed to understanding how to get data governance right, and we sit among a rich landscape of researchers and practitioners exploring models for data governance that work for people and society. Among this landscape, ‘data stewardship’ has emerged as a concept that responds to the question: what data practices enable the use of data for public or social good?

Defining data stewardship and addressing that question are not simple tasks, and it will take a range of approaches to do so. Where others are doing excellent work to categorise types of stewardship or put forward new models for data governance, we’re taking a step back and thinking about what principles might help to shape and critique concepts of data stewardship.

Elinor Ostrom’s principles for governing the commons have been posed by some as offering interesting avenues for thinking through what data stewardship might look like. Building on that work, we have adapted Ostrom’s principles to governing data for social good and drawn together a set of case studies mapped against them.

Explore our data stewardship case studies

These case studies are a step towards answering the questions of data stewardship. Our approach is inspired by Ostrom herself, who gathered thousands of examples of how shared resources are managed in the real world in order to develop her principles.

We believe this set of case studies is a rich resource. Rather than leaving it to sit in our shared folders or in a report appendix, we share it openly so that other researchers, practitioners or anyone curious may analyse them, critically engage with our approach, draw their own conclusions, and ultimately use this resource to inform their own thinking.

We will also share our own analysis in a forthcoming report, and we’re exploring other ways to surface these case studies and allow audiences to engage with them more creatively.

We hope you find this resource helpful, and we’d welcome your thoughts, feedback or opportunities to talk these concepts through.

You can get in touch with Reema Patel ( or via

Or Tweet @AdaLovelaceInst using #DataStewardship / #RethinkingData.

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