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Creating Public Value Through Data Collaboration


In the 10th paper of Digital Revolution and New Social Contract research program, Stefaan Verhulst argues that policymakers should increase collaboration between the public and private sectors to promote a healthy data economy.

An important challenge of the growing datafication of our society lies in the emerging problem of data asymmetries – the uncomfortable reality that, although our communities are awash in data, not everyone benefits equally. Quite the contrary. Data flows have often been very uneven, concentrating power in the hands of a few and exacerbating existing inequalities to the detriment of society. These data silos continue driving a wedge within and among sectors and limiting the public good potential of data, so overcoming them will be vital to address the enormous mismatch between data supply and demand that exists today. In this second paper on the future data economy, Dr. Stefaan Verhulst (The GovLab) presents a framework for responsible data sharing that aims to increase collaboration between the public and private sectors, address deeply entrenched data asymmetries, and promote a healthy data economy.

The pathway to more data sharing runs through the well-established (yet still poorly understood) practice of open data

In recent years, one model has gained increased attention for its potential to ensure that data gets applied to the social, economic, cultural, and political problems that it could help solve: data collaboratives. The term refers to an emerging  partnership scheme in which participants from different sectors – including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies – exchange data to solve public problems.  These data collaboratives help to address the shortcomings presented by our persistent failure to reuse data appropriately, by drawing together otherwise siloed data and dispersed ranges of expertise. In turn, this allows to match supply and demand and ensure that relevant actors can use data in the most efficient .

More open data means more access to data or data products (at least in theory). It means that the potential insights contained within data can be better directed in service of those who may most benefit from those insights, as well as those who may be in a best position to unlock the insights

 However, like any effort at data sharing, these data collaboratives are also faced with various challenges. For example, there is a general lack of awareness and appreciation regarding the potential of data collaboration, as well as a pervasive absence of trust among potential sharing partners and the general public. The private sector, in particular, also has concerns about the reuse of their data, arguing that increased data sharing could lead to data leaks, unfair penalties, and reputational losses that would cost them their competitive advantage. But even if actors agreed to more data collaboration, they would still suffer from limited capacities, high transaction costs, and a weak community of practice and knowledge base.


The role of the policymaker should therefore be to make data collaboratives systematic, sustainable, and responsible. First, we need a more participatory approach to identify important questions that can be answered with data; a new science of questions. We should also promote data stewards – individuals or teams within organizations who are responsible for proactively initiating and coordinating data collaboratives – to help foster a culture of responsible data sharing. At some point, we will also have to clarify incentives for data holders in the private and public sector, as openly sharing data can actually incur various benefits, including generating new insights, enhancing reputation, and maximizing revenue opportunities. More broadly, we will need to establish a social license for re-use to make the case of data collaboration to all stakeholders in the value chain, and thus build trust among data holders, data consumers, and the general public. Lastly, we must become data-driven about data and gather more information about the types of projects, data sharing methods, participants, safeguards, and outcomes that can help establish best practices, guidelines, and accountability measures.

By being smart about incentives and adopting a responsible and sustainable approach, data collaboratives can contribute to a healthy data economy that benefits society as a whole

Stefaan Verhulst is Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer as well as Director of GovLab’s Data Program; and the Co-Founder and Principal Scientific Advisor of The Data Tank.

To read more about the topic and download the full paper, click here.