Introducing the Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration

By Andrew Young and Stefaan Verhulst

Data Collaboratives are an emerging form of collaboration where parties from different sectors come together to leverage data held in the private sector to benefit the public interest. These new public-private partnerships are an innovative and essential new problem-solving technique in our increasingly “datafied” society.

Efforts to unlock the value of private-sector data through Data Collaboratives are proliferating around the world — as evidenced by the over 150 examples found in the Data Collaboratives Explorer. Despite this growth in practice, establishing a Data Collaborative can still be a slow and difficult process. In particular, defining and coming to agreement on the legal provisions driving a collaborative can be an arduous undertaking. Creating these legal agreements — such as memoranda of understanding or data-sharing agreements and contracts — create significant transaction costs for companies in the private sector representing the supply side, as well as institutions in the public or civil sector representing the demand.

These transaction costs can be especially burdensome for small businesses and under-funded or under-resourced entities. Eliminating or mitigating these transaction costs could therefore not only serve to catalyze more data collaboration, but also help to ensure a level playing field that may widen the scope for innovation.

Earlier this year we launched the Contracts for Data Collaboration (C4DC) initiative — an open collaborative with charter members from The GovLab, UN SDSN Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS), University of Washington and the World Economic Forum. C4DC seeks to address the inefficiencies of developing contractual agreements for public-private data collaboration by informing and guiding those seeking to establish a data collaborative by developing and making available a shared repository of relevant contractual clauses taken from existing legal agreements. Today TReNDS published “Partnerships Founded on Trust,” a brief capturing some initial findings from the C4DC initiative.

The Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration [beta]

The Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration [beta] — Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young, The GovLab

As part of the C4DC effort, and to support Data Stewards in the private sector and decision-makers in the public and civil sectors seeking to establish Data Collaboratives, The GovLab developed the Contractual Wheel of Data Collaboration [beta]. The Wheel seeks to capture key elements involved in data collaboration while demystifying contracts and moving beyond the type of legalese that can create confusion and barriers to experimentation.

The Wheel was developed based on an assessment of existing legal agreements, engagement with The GovLab-facilitated Data Stewards Network, and analysis of the key elements of our Data Collaboratives Methodology. It features 22 legal considerations organized across 6 operational categories that can act as a checklist for the development of a legal agreement between parties participating in a Data Collaborative:


  • Purpose of the Data Collaborative — value proposition of the collaboration
  • Scope & Limitations — the specific contours of the collaboration, including what is not involved in the initiative


  • Data Assets & (Re)Sources — data/insights/expertise to be exchanged in the collaboration
  • Formats, Standards, and Technical Requirements — specifications for the data assets and/or resources to be exchanged
  • Provenance — origin(s) of the data assets and/or resources


  • Parties — providers and users of the data assets, as well as other participants in the collaboration
  • Custodial Duties — actors responsible for upkeep and management of data assets
  • Access Criteria — determinants of which of parties can access data assets under what conditions
  • Rights & Responsibilities — expectations placed on parties to the agreement


  • Operational Models & Sharing Mechanisms — mechanics of the collaboration or data exchange
  • Resources & Costs — budgetary considerations and provision
  • Permissions — actions parties can and cannot take as part of the collaboration
  • Legal & Professional Requirements — actions to be taken based on industry- or domain-specific conditions affecting parties
  • Governance & Audit — ongoing decision-making and accountability processes
  • Dispute Resolution & Risk Mitigation Strategies — means for addressing emergent challenges resulting from the collaboration


  • Duration — period of the agreement and/or collaboration
  • Frequency of Updates — anticipated schedule for exchange of data assets
  • Data Retention — provisions for if/how the data will be stored over time and under what conditions it is to be destroyed
  • Termination & Modification — circumstances under which the collaboration will end and/or when the agreement can be revised


  • Publication and (Pre)Dissemination Requirements — standards that must be met prior to circulating the results of the collaboration
  • Jurisdiction Implications — considerations related to the legal and regulatory context in which the collaboration will occur, including indemnification issues
  • Enforcement Procedures — mechanisms through which parties will be compelled to abide by the provisions of the agreement

The above Wheel is currently in beta version. Going forward, we will work closely with our C4DC partners and Data Stewards Network to finalize this approach and put it to use in establishing new Data Collaboratives. We would welcome any input or expression of interest to be part of our efforts toward making data collaboratives more systematic, sustainable and responsible. Contact us via email at: stefaan [at] or andrew [at]”