Launch of the Datasphere Initiative

5 Apr 2022, 13:00h - 15:00h

Event report

Introducing the Datasphere Initiative

Ms Lorrayne Porciuncula (Executive Director, Datasphere Initiative) introduced the Datasphere Initiative. She opened with a discussion regarding the widespread misunderstanding of data, despite the fact that data is all around us. According to her, this clearly reveals that we do not grasp data as a concept and that understanding it is the first step. The Datasphere Initiative sees the datasphere as a complex system encompassing all types of data and their dynamic interrelations with human groups and norms. Understanding that complex adaptive system allows us to recognise data’s uniqueness, its own credit predictability, and the difficulty of managing it using traditional tools, Porciuncula noted. The mission of the Datasphere Initiative is to build an agile framework to responsibly unlock the value of data for all.

Responsibly unlocking the value of data for all

We are at the crossroads trying to find a balance between many issues, including effective and robust user data protection and the vital need for data to measure critical aspects of an increasingly digitised society, stated Mr Demi Getschko (Chairperson, Brazilian Network Information Centre). Dealing with the massive amount of internet-generated data requires transparency. Internet governance issues and its ecosystem require a more systemic and fair debate on its management. The need to discuss internet governance emerges from the digital transformation process’s numerous challenges. The new model of communication demands the reinforcement of four pillars: (a) the legal context for data privacy protection and sharing, as well as data flows; (b) data literacy; (c) data sovereignty, (d) capacity building in related fields. Mr Getschko concluded his presentation by stating that by involving various stakeholders, the Datasphere Initiative can reinforce the sense of urgency about data governance, while creating opportunities for experts and policymakers to collaborate, resulting in concrete results that can truly unlock the value of data for all. Ms Georgina Nunez (Economic Affairs Officer, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), focused on how data is used within Latin America and the Caribbean and the impact of COVID-19 on digitalisation — concluding that the pandemic has contributed to the acceleration of digitalisation. Digitalisation can increase productivity and competitiveness. Competitive advantage will increasingly be determined by a country’s capacity to create the technology required by the digitisation process. The development and use of digital data will promote innovation and productivity in the digitalisation process, complemented with an appropriate legislative and institutional framework. In this area, the datasphere effort may be quite beneficial since it will allow us to learn directly about best practices, Nunez concluded. Ms Kassy Raymond (Fellow, Datasphere Initiative) focused on the importance of data quality, sharing, standardisation, discoverability, and reusability of data. She underlined the importance of data quality. Poor quality data can influence models and estimates that we use to understand the world and make policy decisions. It is important to keep in mind that data must be reusable since any estimate aligns with pre-existing data in the datasphere. When data is unclear or is not specified by metadata or standard definitions, it might be expressed in a variety of interpretations. When multiple data sources use different terminology to describe or report the same topics, combining and comparing standardised and poorly documented data becomes a real challenge. The enormous power of data helps us solve our most intractable challenges, from reducing carbon emissions to protecting endangered species and combating infectious and chronic diseases, stated Mr Christopher Calabrese (Senior Director of Privacy Policy, Microsoft). The path to realising these benefits begins with properly framing our understanding of data. In Africa, data is characterised by inequality, data flows by equity, and business practices dominated by data extraction, stated Allison Gillwald (Executive Director, Research ICT Africa). Data governance is not only concerned with digital rights, which are critical, but it can also address the unequal distribution of opportunities. Africa requires an enabling environment that addresses both the digital infrastructures required to realise data value and the trustworthiness required for individuals to participate. The African continent needs a better policy environment that enables the progressive harmonisation of markets and governance. This is particularly important because we’ve got some critical windows of opportunity around the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The Datasphere Initiative is critical in this context.

The Datasphere Governance Atlas

Ms Carolina Rossini (Chief Impact and Partnerships Officer, Datasphere Initiative) presented the ‘Datasphere Governance Atlas‘ report. It aims to provide a better understanding of the data governance ecosystem. It emphasises potential gaps and ways to overcome difficulties and leverage possibilities linked with data. It also provides a common vocabulary and a proposed categorisation to help overcome conceptual gaps in data governance. The atlas maps data trends by actors and across regions and sectors, painting a broad picture of the diverse data ecosystem. It brings to light original and up-to-date information about more than 260 actors in the global data ecosystem, including their geographic location and scope, as well as the focus, objectives, and outcomes of their activities.

The need for a collaboratively governed datasphere

The importance of identifying capacity gaps in partner institutions was emphasised by Ms Renata Avila (CEO, Open Knowledge Foundation). Avila observed that the work with the data set does not end once it is released, but rather begins. In the previous ten years, many corporations and institutions had made tremendous efforts to provide data. However, when data reaches the hands of those who must use, integrate, and analyse it, it must be of high quality; otherwise, it is useless. Data is essential for innovation, creating new areas of productivity and, by extension, competitiveness. How can we assign a monetary value to this asset? Data is distinct in its own right: its value is realised when used for insight to solve a problem. This requires highly specialised talents that are in high demand. Data portability may create a competitive climate where only the most well-positioned actors will survive, noted Mr Andrew Wyckoff (Director of OECD’s Directorate for STI). Wyckoff agreed that data cannot be compared with oil because data is abundant. Because of their vast platforms, the USA and China now dominate the data-driven digital economy. Because of the epidemic, data traffic has increased, and people’s lives have never been more reliant on real-time data. Data exploitation has generated substantial revenue for global digital platforms. Data is becoming increasingly recognised as a valuable economic and strategic resource. However, the world is in a very uneven state in terms of the ability to use data for commercial and social purposes, pointed out Ms Shamika Sirimanne (Director Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD). There is an urgent need to investigate options that could lead to improved global data governance. We must seek international governance structures that allow digital data to move as freely as possible while also ensuring that any gain is distributed equitably. We must try to minimise increasing internet fragmentation. Therefore, the UN must play a critical role in ensuring that all elements of data for development, economic, human rights, and security-related issues are taken into account. Mr Sushant Kumar (Director, Omidyar Network) emphasised the importance of conceptualising a different form of data economy that is less about concentration and more about cooperation and collaboration. Kumar referred to the work of Professor Diane Coyle. The latter has described the distinct nature of data in comparison to other goods in the economy as intangible and non-rival. Ideas are non-rival and not entirely excusable, resulting in positive economic spillovers. Some of these positive spillovers can be generated by data. We must consider this as a continuum of data sets and their utility for public value. Since there is so much data publicly available, visible, indexable, and discoverable on the internet and the World Wide Web, access control will be required in the data world, stated Mr Vint Cerf (Chief Internet Evangelist, Google Bertrand). As a result, access control is a critical component of the datasphere concept. Some institutions will be required to manage access to and usage of the datasphere.

Closing remarks

The way we deal with untangled data will influence the future of our society and economies, stated Mr Stefan Schnorr (State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Digital and Transport, Germany). He emphasised the importance of deepening our understanding of approaches that can facilitate free trust versus data flows, as well as assessing data localisation measures and their potential implications. Various stakeholders’ knowledge, experience, and requirements must be considered in doing so. According to Mr Seitaro Fujita (Deputy Director-General, IT Strategy, Commerce and Information Policy Bureau, METI), working to discover the value of data necessitates the involvement of actors from various levels of government and the private sector. In this sense, the framework for effective data management is as broad and deep as the technology and knowledge that have evolved until now. Data is affecting every aspect of society, and we require organisational innovation as well as new and agile approaches to data policymaking more than ever, underlined Ms Kelly Born (Director, Cyber Initiative, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation). Born expressed her hope that communities and institutions will support and join the effort to shape a collaboratively governed datasphere that promotes well-being for all. According to Mr Thomas Schneider (Ambassador and Director of International Affairs, OFCOM, Switzerland) data is a powerful resource for driving social and economic innovation, allowing us to improve our healthcare system, transportation system, energy management, education, and so on. Data governance and data space management will be critical for the use of data that allows all of us to benefit from it. Over the last two years, Switzerland has seen heated debates about how to encourage the establishment of trustworthy data spaces. On a national and international scale, Switzerland’s government has promoted trustworthy data spaces. This includes developing governance mechanisms for such environments. Switzerland was one of the first governments to embrace the concept of the datasphere. The panel was concluded by MrBertrand de La Chapelle (Chief Vision Officer, Datasphere Initiative) who concluded the panel by stating that the activities previously presented are just the beginning and will be continued with three initiatives. The Platform for Dialogue, which aims to increase debate, awareness, and capacity development. The Intelligence Hub, which aims to collect additional evidence, insights, and best practices from various industries and locations. And the Lab for Innovation, which aims to provide a collaborative environment in which we can find, present, and experiment with new ideas in the tools and governance frameworks we are using to address those concerns.
The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network launched the Datasphere Initiative, a new network of stakeholders with the vision of building a collaboratively governed Datasphere. The initiative aims to responsibly unlock the value of data for all by fostering a holistic and agile approach to data governance. The launch took place on the occasion of a G7 Multistakeholder Meeting under the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Germany. The event included an introduction to the initiative and two panels titled ‘Responsibly unlocking the value of data for all’ and ‘The need for a collaboratively governed datasphere,’ as well as the release of the initiative's first flagship report, the ‘Datasphere Governance Atlas.’