11.JPG

How obvious is it that “We Need To Talk About Data”? 

Data is becoming more prevalent in our lives, informing services offered for individuals, companies, and governments, but also those that have local or international footprints. This sparks many concerns, related to trust, as in consumer protection, privacy, and security, but also trade, competition, skills, economic imbalances, societal impacts, etc. 

Debate on data requires a different approach from traditional policy debates. Different from physical goods and services, data is multi-dimensional with an ever-changing value that is hard to measure. In fact, measuring data’s intrinsic value, or positive and negative externalities, is particularly challenging, given data’s unique properties (non-rivalry, replicability, etc). 

As professionals whose responsibility is to guide organizations’ data use and governance, CDOs are aware of how data is crucial for good decision making - be of firm-level and sector innovation, as well as government decision making and development more broadly. 

For leaders in the data world - from CDOs, to privacy experts to knowledge managers at all levels - policymaking can constrain or support goals, increase costs, or even, enhance risks. Data policy should not be constrained to the realm of the public policy teams of companies, but seen as a core enabler - or potentially inhibitor - for strategic business decisions. That is why data experts need to be at the table of global and national data policy and governance debates in order to support better and more informed decision-making.  

How is discussion on data being framed in the policy arena?  

Data is high on international policy agendas (from the G20 or G7, to organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union, or the World Trade Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), just to name a few examples. 

Various analogies are now in use to refer to data in policy speak, for example, data is the new oil, gold, or even avocado. And depending on the analogies one adopts, policy design and governments action can take very different routes with radically different results and consequences.  

In the policy world, those analogies take us to two seemingly opposing takes that result in very different ways that data governance evolves - causing more or less friction (e.g. more or less restrictive privacy, data localization measures, consent, or contractual norms).  

We are referring to the dueling policy slogans: “free flow of data” and “data sovereignty” and how these polarizing concepts are preventing stakeholders from seriously addressing complex challenges around data governance, and then unlocking innovation and well-being.

The report “We Need to Talk About Data: Framing the Debate Around the Free Flow of Data and Data Sovereignty”, maps these dueling slogans and their impact on the data policy landscape. Some of its findings include:

  • Cross-border data flows bring a multitude of opportunities, but also raise various concerns, overlapping security, economic, and human rights dimensions.

  • Dealing with potential misuses of data while preserving its free technical transit requires dedicated trust-building frameworks. 

  • Data Sovereignty measures come in different guises, and their implementation is prone to unintended consequences, with systemic effects if generalized. 

  • Data connects with territories and jurisdictions in multiple ways, producing an ecosystem of overlapping applicable rules and redefining the exercise of sovereignties.

This report has kicked off an important discussion and it is at the inception of the Datasphere Initiative, as a platform for dialogue, evidence-gathering, and experimentation on the issue of data governance. The goal of this column is to continue informing and engaging with core data experts and practitioners as this debate evolves at national, regional, and global levels. 

How to Move Forward 

Striving to achieve common objectives, such as maximizing well-being and defining the distributions of responsibilities among actors, could help move policy debate on data forward.

Widening policy debate on data to be global, multi-stakeholder, and cross-sectoral could help bridge silos. This discussion between stakeholders could be reframed to ensure that this complex and novel issue is addressed in a much more nuanced manner. Actors could also look to be more innovative in the tools, frameworks, and concepts they use to address the issue of data. 

It is crucial that policymakers hear from those that know the day-to-day challenges and opportunities of data use. The CDO community can be a crucial ally in the journey of finding innovative legal and technical solutions for data governance. 

Introducing the Datasphere Initiative

Recognizing that how we govern data will determine the future of human society in the 21st century, the Datasphere Initiative is calling for a bold paradigm shift in how data governance models and norms are conceived and implemented.

The mission of the Datasphere Initiative is to build innovative data governance frameworks that are inclusive, agile, and scalable. The Datasphere Initiative is the world’s first global network of stakeholders fostering a holistic and innovative approach to data governance. Through knowledge sharing and the development of concrete solutions, it promotes a new level of transnational cooperation and mission-oriented partnerships to harness the opportunities of data and address its urgent, multidimensional, and cross-border challenges.

Ultimately, the vision is for a Datasphere that fosters trust, prosperity, sustainability, and well-being for all. 


Every month, the Datasphere Initiative column will provide CDO Magazine’s readers with an insight into the latest policy trends impacting Data Officer professionals. In each article, you’ll be taken on a deep dive into a global data policy issue and how it might impact your daily work, decisions, and risk assessment. You can also reach out to us (info@thedatasphere.org) to further discuss any issues or suggest topics we can cover.