The mission of the academic social sciences is to understand and ameliorate society’s greatest challenges. The data held by private companies hold vast potential to further this mission. Yet, because of their interaction with highly politicized issues, customer privacy, proprietary content, and differing goals of business and academia, these datasets are often inaccessible to university researchers. We propose here a model for industry-academic partnerships that addresses these problems via a novel organizational structure: Respected scholars form a commission which, as a trusted third party, receives access to all relevant company information and systems, and then invites independent academics to do research in specific areas, following standard peer review protocols, funded by nonprofit foundations, and with no required pre-publication approval by the company. We also report on a partnership we helped forge under this model to make data available about the incendiary issues surrounding the impact of social media on elections and democracy. In our first partnership, Facebook provides (privacy-preserving) data access; eight major ideologically and substantively diverse nonprofit foundations fund the research; an organization of academics we created, Social Science One, leads the project; and logistical help is provided by the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard and a respected nonprofit.
First version released April 9, 2018, with updates here.