Why we have gone for high level principles rather than deep dives

26th July 2023

The British Farm Data Council was formed by a group of individuals from across the farming industry who believe that greater use of data can help farmers and growers in the UK to improve their productivity, resilience, profitability and sustainability. However, opportunities are not being realised in part due to a lack of trust in an appropriate standard of data governance. In this article we explore why the Council has opted for high level principles rather than prescriptive processes or codes of practice.

When bringing together the Council, we wanted people who are passionate about UK agriculture and intuitively take a farmer-centric perspective on the subject of trust, integrity and transparency, rather than digital ag or data experts.  We needed a coalition of the willing to take farm data governance principles from an aspiration to a reality for farmers.

Given that perspective, we decided that any system we put in place should be as simple and straightforward as possible, with the goal of answering two questions:

1.    Would a farmer or grower recognise companies and organisations that signed up to the principles as being better partners to work with, when it comes to data, than those who didn’t? 

2.    Would a company be prepared sign up to these principles (and under what circumstances)?

With that in mind, we settled on four key principles that we identified as being critical to the trust issue, each one having a small series of succinct statements to explain what we mean by the principle. These are the subject of other articles – see the news section of the website.

So why not make this process much more prescriptive? Why not statements such as “To get accreditation you must do this using the following detailed protocols”. From discussions with people from across the industry, and from similar initiatives such as Ag Data Transparent in the US, it was clear that different organisations were very interested in addressing the problem of data governance but might have different ways of achieving them. We did not want a one-size-fits-all approach that constrained innovation or discourage engagement with governance discussions.

Farmers and growers want to see a level of governance that enables them to trust and work with a company; they are generally far less interested in how it is achieved. There must be belief in the certification process. Those who do not work to the principles cannot be certified as “Farm Data Safe” by the British Farm Data Council, and those who sign up but do not work to those principles can be “de-certified”. We will revisit the certification process question in the future

What do you think of these principles? If you are a farmer or grower, would a company or organisation that signs up to data governance principles make them a more attractive partner? If you represent a company or organisation, would this framework work for you? What problems might you see arise? Contact the Council 

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