DCMS blog

“Data use can transform the economy and tackle society’s biggest challenges”

Sasjkia Otto

by

Sasjkia Otto

Senior Policy Adviser, Data Economy Innovation at DCMS

The use of data — done safely, fairly and efficiently — presents one of the big opportunities of our time, and lies at the heart of the vision set out in the National Data Strategy. It presents an opportunity to transform the economy, society and the way we live our lives whilst tackling some of society’s biggest challenges, like climate change and healthy ageing.

Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy commits to unlocking the value of data held across the economy. Better access to data will be central to doing this, in a way that levels the playing field for SMEs, nonprofits and the UK’s regions. But we know from the National Data Strategy consultation that data isn’t getting to where it could be used most effectively: data markets are underdeveloped or nonexistent. Through our consultation we heard that better data availability could benefit all sectors, with data sharing between sectors being identified as a common challenge.

New research on increasing access to data held across the economy

Decorative: multicoloured data graphs on a tablet

Today, we published DCMS-commissioned research on the toolkit we could use to increase access to data held across the economy. This research was developed by Frontier Economics, with guidance by expert advisor Professor Diane Coyle.

The report suggests that some actions or ‘levers’ that government could consider include:

  • Supporting innovation in safe data sharing — for example, through confidentiality-enhancing technologies and techniques;
  • Making it less costly for organisations to use data — for example through encouraging better foundations for data management and stewardship;
  • Realigning incentives to share and access data — including through market-driven approaches and by mandating data access if appropriate;
  • Tackling some of the regulatory challenges associated with data sharing; and
  • Ensuring organisations are equipped to better understand the benefits of data use, and how they could access these safely and efficiently.

Working collaboratively

Decorative: people icons connected in a network

We are considering what would be the right combination of these tools to jumpstart data markets. We will set out our approach in a policy framework in the Autumn, as promised in the National Data Strategy, which will provide a blueprint for the action we will take to help the right data make it to the right place at the right time.  

Parts of these markets may well develop without government intervention. In the coming months, we’ll be collaborating with industry and nonprofits to better understand what involvement from government would be most helpful. For example, do data markets need an enabling framework for efficient and safe business models to develop? What additional support may be needed to stimulate market activity? Does government need to intervene directly to ensure data serves as a public good, with a fair outcome for all?

In the meantime, we’re looking closely at the role of data intermediaries in supporting responsible data sharing, and how government could intervene to support their adoption, building on the Ada Lovelace Institute/AI Council joint report on Legal Mechanisms for Data Stewardship. We’re also working with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to identify where Government can support better data availability, for example by improving our understanding of Government’s role in supporting the adoption of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs).

We are grateful to Professor Diane Coyle — who has overseen world-leading research on the value of data, as co-director of the University of Cambridge Bennett Institute — for acting as expert adviser to the project. Her words are an appropriate place to end: “It is important to ensure that the use of data in our society and economy is fair, secure, and delivers on its potential to help tackle major challenges.

“It should be acknowledged that data markets are complex and span an enormous range of sectors and policy areas; it remains the case that we do not have much data about data. The report’s approach of identifying levers, to overcome the barriers to realising the full value of data for society, is a useful way to address this challenge.

“The government, businesses and nonprofits will need to act together to maintain momentum and deliver real-world change.”