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Open Data Action Lab: Data Sharing Agreements for Smart Cities

Takeaways from our first Open Data Action Lab on accelerating data collaborations in cities by removing obstacles to Data Sharing Agreements

Posted on 17th of February 2023 by Hannah Chafetz

This blog details the proceedings of the first of two Action Labs. Learn more about the initiative by visiting the Open Data Policy Lab website

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. 56% of the global population lives in a city and the United Nations predicts this number will increase to 68% by 2050. Cities have become the forefront of 21st century problems from the climate crisis to pandemics. Nonetheless, cities have become a focal point when it comes to solutions to these types of problems. 

Data is continuing to play an important role in how we address 21st century problems in cities. The GovLab’s Third Wave of Open Data suggests that cities are increasingly leveraging data collaborations to address local needs, but local actors often encounter major obstacles. Data Sharing Agreements–“written agreements that establish the terms for how data are shared between parties”–are a barrier to advancing local data collaborations and making cities more data-driven. 

The Open Data Action Labs (ODAL) is an effort from the Open Data Policy Lab to support organizations in defining new strategies and tools that can resolve the policy challenges they face. The ODAL aim to help realize the promise of the Third Wave of Open Data and spur the acceleration of private-sector data re-use and collaboration. For this reason, we have decided to collaborate with TrustRelay–a Swisscom spin-off that seeks to unlock the value of shared data using dataspaces–to address their data collaborative challenges in the city of Lucerne. 

On February 9th, The GovLab, Open Data Policy Lab and TrustRelay co-hosted the first of two studios focused on accelerating data collaborations in Lucerne. Joined by experts across several domains including smart cities, the law, and data ecosystem, the studio served as the foundation to understand the current obstacles to designing Data Sharing Agreements and the technological, governance, and process innovations that could advance Data Sharing Agreements in Lucerne. 

The studio began with a presentation by André Golliez (Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Zetamind AG) about how data could help develop sustainable tourism practices in Lucerne. Jorge Alvarado (the Founder and CTO of TrustRelay) then presented the challenges he’s experienced with Data Sharing Agreements and the principles that underpin TrustRelay’s processes. We then conducted an interactive discussion to understand the obstacles participants currently face when designing Data Sharing Agreements and the types of innovations that could address these obstacles. Below we provide five key takeaways from the discussion.

Open Data Action Lab One Findings ExternalTopic map of obstacles to designing Data Sharing Agreements discussed during Open Data Action Lab One

  • The need for guidance on how negotiations should take place

Those seeking to develop a Data Sharing Agreement often struggle to work with collaborators to define roles and responsibilities or agree to common ends. The initiator of the Data Sharing Agreement often has a first-mover advantage–where they become the decision maker–that is difficult to balance with other actors. There is a desire for guidance on how negotiations should take place. The current absence of any such guidance has fostered distrust, disagreement, and exacerbated costs. 

  • The need for clearer incentives 

Those involved in the data collaboration struggle to measure the value proposition of it until after the Data Sharing Agreement is complete. While the value of the initiative is often unclear, costs and risks remain top-of-mind. There is also a struggle to communicate the value in the context of different organizational cultures and deeply held fears of opening up data. There is a need to establish clear benefits for the data provider and motivate collaborators to participate despite the costs.

  • The need for additional governance tools to help define the context at hand

There are often challenges in aligning on a problem to be addressed through the data collaboration. Those looking to set up the data collaboration struggle to answer questions such as why the collaboration is needed, what it aims to achieve, who it benefits, and how it fits within existing data programs. There is a need for additional governance tools to help answer these types of questions collaboratively with all partners. 

  • The need for stakeholder management processes

The Data Sharing Agreement process is a multidisciplinary effort—requiring both technical and legal expertise. Those initiating the data collaboration often struggle to identify the expertise required and communicate the requirements across disciplines (e.g. how to adhere to specific policies). There is a need for additional guidance on how to engage stakeholders across disciplines and build knowledge across different domains.

  • The need for de-risk mechanisms across the data life cycle

Those looking to develop the data collaboration struggle to determine the value of data for a given purpose without having access to it. Ordinarily, organizations lack a clear understanding of what is in a dataset until the Data-Sharing Agreement has been signed. In this period before sharing occurs, organizations must confront the possibility that the data will not be of sufficient quality, that it will be incomplete, or that it will be built on technical legacy systems that are inoperable. There is a need to establish mechanisms to de-risk the data collaborations life cycle. 

Next Steps

During the next studio, we will further unpack these findings and prototype governance tools that could be used to address each area of need. Specifically, we will explore the following areas:

  • Developing principles that could inform the negotiation of Data Sharing Agreements: 

An exploration of the types of principles that could underpin data collaboration negotiations including principles as it relates to the process or how data should be handled. 

  • De-risking the full data collaboration life cycle: A discussion about the mechanisms that are needed across the data collaboration life cycle–including prior to the implementation of the Data Sharing Agreement as to give a sense of the usefulness of the data being proposed.
  • Operationalizing The GovLab’s Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration: The GovLab’s Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration is a tool developed as a part of the Contracts for Data Collaborations (C4DC) initiative that seeks to capture key elements involved in a data collaboration and developing a Data Sharing Agreement. This will include a deep dive on how the different aspects of the wheel could be implemented.




Image by Geertje Caliguire on Unsplash


Those interested in collaborating or attending our next Open Data Action Lab are encouraged to send an email to Stefaan Verhulst at [email protected]. To learn more about the Open Data Policy Lab, visit


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