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Sharing data with other organisations: what’s the payoff?

Wed May 29, 2019
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Exploring the need for data stewards and professionalising data collaboration

In February 2019, the Open Data Institute (ODI) and The GovLab ran a workshop – Professionalising data collaboration: the need for data stewards – to support learning among public- and private-sector data stewards, share best practice, and develop a research agenda and plan of action on data stewardship globally.

Here we discuss the event and potential business benefits of data sharing.

With privacy at the forefront of our minds following scandals around how companies like Facebook are using personal data, and our data rights becoming better defined after the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, how can organisations share data safely and ethically, for the benefit of the business and its consumers?

Customer data in banking

Take the example of data held by retail banks about their customers. Some data is already shared, for example with banking regulators and law enforcement authorities, for the purposes of compliance and anti-terrorism checks; and with apps that help you to access and analyse your banking data through the Open Banking Initiative.

However, there are a plethora of other potentially valuable reasons for banks to share more data – with each other, with government, with civil society, and with academia.

The banks hold information about their customers which, if shared (while respecting privacy), might help them understand how to help those who may be at risk of defaulting on a loan or getting into debt. It might make it easier to identify fraudsters or potential terrorists. Or it could help to identify groups in society who don’t have fair access to banking services.

So why isn’t this information being shared? Could it be because the true value of sharing the data hasn’t been worked out?

Sure, in this case the greater value might be to society, rather than to the bank itself. But there could also be great potential value to the individual financial institutions, in terms of identifying new markets or spotting customers already in financial difficulty – and wider benefits such as building trust.

Sharing this data could also help corporations to build better relationships with civil society, government and regulators – by actively providing information that could help inform public policy and tackle problems such as financial exclusion.

The GovLab and ODI workshop for data stewards

These topics were discussed at the data-stewards’ workshop – hosted by the ODI and The Gov Lab in February.

The GovLab, as part of its Data Stewards Network initiative, is releasing a framework for decision-makers in the private sector to assess the value of data they hold – and the potential value of cross-sector collaboration around that data.

Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab co-founder, introduced the framework, stating that its aim is to remind organisations to consider all of the potential benefits of sharing – including the social value to the organisation and wider society, as well as the economic value. It is designed to help organisations estimate the full value, before they get into the inevitable potential risks of sharing, he added. (Read more about data-sharing frameworks in Verhulst’s testimony to NYC Committee on Technology.)

Peter Wells, ODI Director of Public Policy used the example of sharing cat data to demonstrate how open and shared data can bring a multitude of benefits. He noted that if vets share information with other vets about cat ailments and treatments, new learnings might be found about treatments, and, for example, areas where communicable disease might proliferate – which could lead to the development of new interventions.

But what is in it for the vet? Wells commented that, aside from the commercial value of the data to animal pharmaceutical companies, they could also cut costs themselves by using more effective treatments more quickly. They could potentially reduce their insurance premiums. And small and medium-sized veterinary practices might benefit by being on more of a level playing field with larger practices in terms of the data they have available.

The cat analogy applies to lots of other sectors of business and civil society. Determining the value of data sharing – including its commercial value or the benefit to society, but also potentially what it could mean for the reputation of the organisation – can help data holders in organisations make a case about the value of collaborating.

Increasing access to data

The ODI is exploring these issues around data sharing in its UK government-funded innovation programme, including in a project looking at how to increase access to data while retaining trust.

To discuss these issues further, please contact the GovLab about the framework or email the ODI  about data sharing.