Jeni Tennison

Remodelling data governance

Jeni Tennison

Project: Connected By Data

The goal of this project is to test an open, participatory model of data governance with practical techniques and practices.

“Reforms to data protection law are rare, so it's important to grab this opportunity. But also not to get it wrong, break people's trust and make further reform toxic. Technology and expectations are changing fast and the law will need to keep changing too.”

The Big Idea

Jeni is convinced we have converged towards the wrong consensus for data protection laws and practices. Current governance models are obsessed with the concept of individual consent and giving us more control, transparency and ownership. If you see data as your property, this feels right, intuitively. But data is collective and its benefits and impacts are collective. When governance focuses on our personal rights, it ignores the broader, data-related contexts and needs of our communities.

With Connected by data, Jeni is testing her concept of open, collective and participatory governance. To build a new narrative around collective data as a common good, she will develop a programme of tools and techniques, and work with businesses, academics, legislators and the data community to help them overcome fears and embrace this new approach.

Why We Funded

Problems such as exclusion, exploitation and surveillance are not being solved by current data governance models. Yet we happily buy into the consensus. Its narrative flatters us at an intuitive level because it feels right to take ownership and good to be empowered as stewards of our personal data. But do we really have agency over who accesses and uses it? And are we missing out on the benefits of treating our data as a community resource, rather than our personal property?

These questions have plagued Jeni in the recent years of her long and successful career as a data expert. She is compelled to take on the responsibility of finding a solution. Her fellowship offers her the opportunity to break new ground and introduce an open, commons-based concept to data governance. And while she begins her journey at a highly exploratory level, this project has the potential to lay important groundwork for improving the lives of individuals, communities and societies everywhere.

Jeni’s work focuses on:

  • Changing the narrative about data collection and use, away from individual data ownership and consent and towards open, collective data as a common, public good.
  • Working with legislators to build robust, transparent and accountable mechanisms for a new model of data governance.
  • Helping organisations take a more open, participatory approach to their data governance practice.