DCMS publishes report on opening data access to stoke economic growth

by Jeremy

The government has published research that identifies ways to increase access to economic data under the umbrella of its National Data Strategy. The study is part of the ongoing National Data Strategy effort, which started in 2019 when Theresa May was still prime minister and is still a work in progress. Consultancy Frontier Economics researched Cambridge economist Diane Coyle, who co-directs the university’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

economic growth

In December 2020, John Whittingdale, minister of state for media and data at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), told a TechUK Digital Ethics Summit that the imminent National Data Strategy had entered a post-consultation phase. The 89-page published report, Increasing access to data across the Economy, advocate a package of measures comprising “improving knowledge and understanding of data sharing, improving or demonstrating incentives, supporting ways to address risk, reducing the cost of sharing through data foundations (e.g., improved findability and interoperability of data), reducing the (perceived) regulatory burden, and mandating data sharing”.

The report propounds the concept of a “data ecosystem”, which means a system that, using an Open Data Institute definition, includes “the people and organizations involved in either creating outputs using data or benefiting from its use”. The report continues: “Data ecosystems may consist of many actors, at times linked by complex relationships. For simplicity, in this report, we generally refer to two categories of actors: ‘data providers’ and ‘data users’.

In this report, we define ‘data users’ as organizations that generate insights, products, or services using data; ‘data providers’ as organizations that can provide access to data users; and ‘data intermediaries’ as any organization that acts as an intermediary between data providers and users. The report identifies six “levers” the government could use to increase data sharing. Saskia Otto, a senior policy adviser at DCMS, summed these up in a blog post. She wrote: “Through our consultation, we heard that better data availability could benefit all sectors, with data sharing between sectors being identified as a common challenge.” The six levers are, she said:

  • They support innovation in safe data sharing – for example, through confidentiality-enhancing technologies and techniques.
  • They are making it less costly for organizations to use data – for example, by encouraging better foundations for data management and stewardship.
  • They are realigning incentives to share and access data through market-driven approaches and mandating data access, if appropriate.
  • We are tackling some of the regulatory challenges associated with data sharing.
  • Ensuring organizations are equipped to understand better the benefits of data use and how to access these safely and efficiently.

The report gives a few caveats about data sharing and indicates areas for further research. It says: “There is minimal research to hand on the effectiveness of existing interventions, but there is some evidence for the effectiveness of demonstration activities and for mandating data sharing where there is a clear case that this could lead to the development of additional services (e.g., current account comparison services in the case of open banking) or to increasing choice and competition.

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