DCMS publishes report on opening data access to stoke economic growth

by Joseph K. Clark

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 researched with Cambridge economist Diane Coyle, who co-directs the university’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy. The study 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 entered a post-consultation phase.

The 89-page published report, Increasing access to data across the Economy, advocate 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 (e.g., 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 organizations involved in either creating outputs using data or benefiting from its use”. The report continues: “Data ecosystems may consist of many actors, at times linked by complex relationships. For simplicity, in this report, we generally refer to two categories of actors: ‘data providers’ and ‘data users’.


“In this report, we define ‘data users’ as organizations that generate insights, products, or services using data; ‘data providers’ as organizations that can provide access to data users; and ‘data intermediaries’ as any organization that acts as an intermediary between data providers and users.” The report identifies what it calls six “levers” that the government could use to increase data sharing. Saskia Otto, a senior policy adviser at DCMS, summed these up in a blog post. 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 organizations to use data – for example, through encouraging better foundations for data management and stewardship.
  • Realigning incentives to share and access data through market-driven approaches and mandating data access, if appropriate.
  • Tackling some of the regulatory challenges associated with data sharing.
  • Ensuring organizations are equipped to understand better better data use and how to access these safely and efficiently.

The report gives a few caveats about data sharing and indicates areas for further research. It says: “There is minimal 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 (e.g., 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 developing public policy in this area, rather than a set of firm conclusions.” In an appendix, the report itemizes 15 issues that could impair data sharing, one of which is 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”.

AThe report analyses the obstacles to sharing smart meter data that could benefit the government’s carbon emissions reduction program and the ability of consumers to manage their energy costs. A nother appendix discusses six case studies illustrating data-sharing ecosystems and the hindrances and successes they have encountered, one of them around intelligent meters, of which there were, by March 2020, 4.5 million installed in the UK. 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 fabricating aircraft components, and HiLo Maritime Risk Management, a joint initiative in the maritime sector aimed at improving risk modeling.

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