Data has emerged as a powerful driver in the digital transformation. Data is the basis of digital technologies, like artificial intelligence, and is key to enhanced productivity, innovation, and improved decision-making, including in crises.
For example, the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of data. Few countries had the real-time data they needed when the pandemic hit, making it harder for countries monitor the public health situation and inform citizens. The real-time collection and use of personal health data also revealed longstanding data governance weaknesses – such as how to share the data necessary to save lives, but also protecting individual privacy and civil freedoms.
Today, as countries begin to transition into recovery – while also continuing to fight the spread of the virus – it is more vital than ever to design better mechanisms for data governance, informed by better understanding of the impact of data and measurement of its value. The OECD Going Digital project on data governance for growth and well-being is helping countries do exactly that, leveraging experience across policy areas to provide analysis, guidance, case studies, recommendations, and more.
Data is a driver of digital transformation. Many digital technologies - including artificial intelligence - both rely on and generate massive amounts of data. The use of data can spur innovation and productivity, meaning firms may have a greater interest in collecting and storing data, including information about consumers. This is reflected, for example, in the rise of private equity investments in data-centric businesses and data-enabled firms, such as online platforms, that are at the frontier of markets and technological development.
Governments also increasingly use and collect and use data to make better decisions, deliver improved public services, including in applications like health and education, and build more reliable national statistical systems. Elsewhere, data use can positively impact individual well-being, for example, by enhancing development co-operation to help developing countries use data more effectively to improve welfare and fight poverty.
The growing impact of data across all sectors of economies and societies is becoming an important and strategic asset for people, governments, and business. This has led to a fundamental shift in the way we collect, store, use, process and value data. Yet, while data has huge benefits, its increasing generation and use also come with risks, including privacy violations, digital security incidents, or even discrimination. In response, governments have put in place a growing number of policies and regulations, at both the domestic and international level, to govern the collection, sharing and use of data. The OECD Going Digital Project on Data Governance for Growth and Well-being is looking to measure, describe and understand both the shift in the importance in data, as well as trends in data-related policies and regulation, covering privacy and data protection, data access, sharing and use, and cross-border data flows.
In the context of digital transformation, ‘data’ typically refers to recorded information (in transit or stored) in structured or unstructured digital formats, including text, images, sound, and video. However, while broadly considered a critical resource, data and its properties are still not fully understood. A better understanding of data can support better measurement and inform policymakers to better design public policies and unlock the potential of data for all.
Unlike natural resources like water, data can be copied and re-used endlessly; transferred across the world in milliseconds; and used for multiple, simultaneous and distinct purposes. The OECD is examining the key economic and technical characteristics of data that are at the heart of data governance policies.
Data is also essential to many digital technologies including 5G, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and distributed ledger technologies. The OECD explores the relationship between data and digital technologies, including how the evolution of digital technologies will affect the development of resilient data governance policies.
Depending on the characteristics, use and interests at stake, different types of data may require different policies. For example, policies governing personal health data will differ to those governing freely available open government data. Better understanding types of data and their relevant policy domains will also be a key focus of the OECD Going Digital project in this phase.
The immense importance of data and the shift in the way it is used, appreciated and understood raise a number of major data governance challenges that require policymakers’ attention. The OECD draws on expertise from across the Organisation to help countries identify and address these key policy challenges. While data are being used across a widening range of sectors, data governance often remains siloed and struggles to keep pace with technological developments. Without addressing these issues, data governance frameworks may fail to reap the benefits of data, to provide necessary effective protections, or may even act as barrier to data-driven innovation, competition and trade.
The OECD is working on three complementary outputs, to be delivered by the end of 2022.