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DCMS publishes report on opening data access to stoke economic growth

Research from Frontier Economics with economist Diane Coyle describes how the government could prime data sharing to stimulate economic growth

The government has published research that identifies ways to increase access to economic data, under the umbrella of its National Data Strategy.

Consultancy Frontier Economics carried out the research alongside Cambridge economist Diane Coyle, who co-directs the university’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

The research 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.

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 then entered a post-consultation phase.

The 89-page published report, Increasing access to data across the economy, advocates 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 (eg improved findability and interoperability of data), reducing the (perceived) regulatory burden, and mandating data sharing”.

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

“In this report, we define ‘data users’ as organisations that generate insights, products or services using data; ‘data providers’ as organisations that can provide access to data users; and ‘data intermediaries’ as any organisation that acts as intermediary between data providers and users.”

The report identifies what it calls six “levers” that government could use to increase the sharing of data. Sasjkia Otto, a senior policy adviser at DCMS, summed these up in a blogpost.

Read more about the National Data Strategy

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:

  • 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.
  • Ensuring organisations are equipped to better understand the benefits of data use, and how they could access these safely and efficiently.

The report gives a few caveats about data sharing and indicates areas for further research. It says: “There is very limited 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 (eg current account comparison services in the case of open banking) or to increasing choice and competition.

“However, given the breadth of economic activity where additional data sharing may be beneficial, the array of issues that may prevent sharing, and the sparsity of the evidence base, these findings should be interpreted with caution. This study provides a starting point for the development of public policy in this area, rather than a set of firm conclusions.”

In an appendix, the report itemises 15 issues that could impair data sharing, one of which is shown in a collection of “Royal Society interviews with stakeholders in the automotive industry which found that they were dissuaded from sharing data due to a lack of established business models that could identify whether the benefits of sharing were greater than the costs”.

In another appendix, it discusses six case studies illustrating data sharing ecosystems, and the hindrances and successes they have encountered, one of them around smart meters, of which there were, by March 2020, 4.5 million installed in the UK. The report analyses the obstacles to sharing smart meter data that could benefit the government’s carbon emissions reduction programme and the ability of consumers to manage their energy costs.

The other case studies include: the Advanced Product Concept Analysis Environment project, a £19.2m exercise jointly funded by government, universities and industry, aimed at the fabrication of aircraft components; and HiLo Maritime Risk Management, a joint initiative in the maritime industry aimed at improving risk modelling.

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