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What is collaborative data maintenance?

When individuals, organisations and communities work together to share the work of collecting and maintaining shared data assets this is described as ‘collaborative data maintenance’.

What is a collaborative maintenance project?

Data needs to be stewarded (collected, maintained, shared and governed) in ways that maximise the value it creates, while minimising potential harmful impacts from its use.

Collaborative data maintenance projects use a common data infrastructure to help coordinate the collection, maintenance, governance and use of data across a community.

The community collaborates to share the responsibility and work of maintaining the data to increase quality and coverage, reduce costs, and to improve sustainability.

The contributors in a collaborative maintenance project might contribute as individuals (eg as volunteers or as paid contributors); or they may contribute on behalf of their organisations (eg as employees working on a specific project or activity).

In open-source projects, a community collaborates to maintain the source code for an application or utility. Collaborative data maintenance extends this hugely successful approach to the concept of dataset maintenance.

What are the benefits of collaborating to maintain data?

The benefits of collaborative maintenance stem from the sharing of work across a community. By working together a community of collaborators can:

  • Work to design a data asset that will provide better value to a community than can be achieved by a single organisation.
  • Reduce the costs of data collection and maintenance by sharing work across the community.
  • Improve data quality by allowing a wider group of people to identify and fix errors.
  • Increase the data coverage and currency by utilising a larger volume of contributions from a range of people and organisations.
  • Create a more useful dataset by drawing on the expertise of the community, rather than relying on a single community or organisation.
  • Build trust in a data asset by being transparent about its governance; open participation in its maintenance; and clear rights over its use.
  • Work together to create shared resources that reduce the costs of developing and creating other products and services.
  • Increase the sustainability of a data asset and its supporting data infrastructure by contributing time, support and funding.

How can data be collaboratively maintained?

The work of maintaining a data asset includes:

  • Defining the scope and structure of a data asset so that it supports the needs of the community contributing to, or benefiting from it.
  • Collecting and updating data that is stored in a common database, eg by cataloguing information, collecting observations, or adding and updating individual records.
  • Reviewing the work of other contributors to provide guidance and correct mistakes.
  • Community engagement and support to help contributors coordinate their work.
  • Developing and maintaining the technology and tools that support the other activities.

Data can be collaboratively maintained by sharing this work across a community of contributors, and this can be split differently depending on the type of project.

For example, some projects might focus community contribution on data collection, but its ongoing management and governance may then handled by a single organisation. Others may share the data collection and management across the community. Finally, some larger projects might design their technology and governance models so that all of these activities can be carried out by a community. The right approach depends on the needs of the community and the project.

In general, collaborative maintenance typically involves contributors directly creating, editing and updating records in a common database. Their work may be supported by a range of tools and applications that automate some of the work of importing and reviewing contributed data.

Collaborative maintenance across the data spectrum

Data exists on a spectrum from closed, to shared to open. Collaborative maintenance can be used to help steward data that exists anywhere on the data spectrum.

While employees frequently collaborate to maintain internal, closed-data assets in public and private-sector organisations, collaborative data maintenance projects help organisations collect and manage shared data across both sectors.

Collaborative maintenance is also frequently used to allow individuals and organisations to work in the open to collect and maintain an open dataset.

Projects that use collaborative maintenance typically help increase access to data. This increased access leads to a larger community of people contributing to its maintenance. That community is then incentivised to contribute frequently because they benefit from the enhanced shared-data asset.

The Data Spectrum

This guide intends to help support the design and improvement of projects that involve the collaborative maintenance of shared and open data. It does not provide specific guidance on internal data management and governance within a single organisation.

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