New UK Chancellor Rishi Suna might be under pressure to deliver a post-Brexit bonanza for voters but he is also being urged to splash the cash on data, amid claims that "economies and societies that find ways to unlock the value of data and distribute it fairly will be at an advantage".
A new report by economist Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of public policy at the University of Cambridge, and Open Data Institute CEO Jeni Tennison explores the huge value of data and argue that data can have much greater value to the economy, society and the environment.
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, The Value of Data Report says that while none of the current methods available to put a value on data are effective, much of the value is realised in how data is used.
The authors say the economic characteristics of data and the data economy mean that leaving the market to its own devices will not unlock data’s full potential value.
Tennison said: "Trying to place a value on data presents us with a challenge because data is often used out of sight and we can rarely predict how it might be used in the future. Unlike oil, data can be used again and again and data sets that might not be valuable today can become so tomorrow, as new collaborations, technologies and science develop.
"What’s really important is to avoid creating conditions that might limit or prevent the use of data in ways that could potentially generate value. For example, governments should avoid creating complex and restrictive regulation around data, or granting exclusive ’data access deals’ to data-sets that are seen as particularly valuable".
The report finds that access to data is intrinsic to its value. In general, the more accessible data is, the greater value it has (though this has to be balanced against risks to privacy and incentivising investment).
Restricting access places limitations on those who can use it to develop a product or service, or interrogate it to make decisions. The report sets out a five-point action plan for policymakers and researchers.
Limit exclusive access to public sector data. Selling exclusive access to public sector data can sometimes provide a short-term financial gain but more open access usually provides greater long-term benefits.
Explore mandating access to private sector data. In some instances, say the authors, private sector data can be of great societal benefit. A case where this might be true, for example, is with the maps and geospatial data held by tech companies. Policymakers should look carefully at priority policy areas where mandating access to privately held data could enable innovation, competition and growth.
Provide a trustworthy institutional and regulatory environment. For example, creating intermediary organisations like data trusts to enable data sharing might provide a route to distribute both costs and benefits. Simplify data regulation and licensing. Complex and overlapping regulation and intricate licensing schemes create uncertainties that hold back organisations from using and sharing data. Existing regulation should be simplified, new regulation should be coherent, and clear guidance should be provided.
Use competition policy to distribute value. Big incumbent companies currently capture a large proportion of the value of data as private profit. They can invest in collecting and using data and in specialist skills. However, preventing them from using data to provide valued services would be counterproductive. The report recommends using competition policy to open data-driven markets to other providers.
Coyle commented: "Given the slow growth in living standards and the uncertainty facing the economy, it’s more important than ever for the Government to ensure the UK takes advantage of the potential offered by data. This includes the public sector publishing and sharing data, to enable the innovation and growth we need to compete on the global stage.
"The Budget must contain significant investment to ensure that high-value public data-sets are maintained to the best possible standard, and made as widely available as possible. Data is a key economic asset - a new form of infrastructure - so we need policies to make the best possible use of it while safeguarding privacy."
Nuffield Foundation welfare programme head Catherine Dennison concluded: "We welcome this new report which interrogates how we value data and highlights the potential societal benefits of making data more accessible. The Ada Lovelace Institute – established by the Nuffield Foundation – is embarking on a programme of research and public engagement that will explore some of these issues further to inform best practice and create regulations that strengthen data rights."