Data Collaboratives: Sharing Public Data in Private Hands for Social Good

Beth Simone Noveck (The GovLab) in Forbes: “Sensor-rich consumer electronics such as mobile phones, wearable devices, commercial cameras and even cars are collecting zettabytes of data about the environment and about us. According to one McKinsey study, the volume of data is growing at fifty percent a year. No one needs convincing that these private storehouses of information represent a goldmine for business, but these data can do double duty as rich social assets—if they are shared wisely.

Think about a couple of recent examples: Sharing data held by businesses and corporations (i.e. public data in private hands) can help to improve policy interventions. California planners make water allocation decisions based upon expertise, data and analytical tools from public and private sources, including Intel, the Earth Research Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the World Food Center at the University of California at Davis.

In Europe, several phone companies have made anonymized datasets available, making it possible for researchers to track calling and commuting patterns and gain better insight into social problems from unemployment to mental health. In the United States, LinkedIn is providing free data about demand for IT jobs in different markets which, when combined with open data from the Department of Labor, helps communities target efforts around training….

Despite the promise of data sharing, these kind of data collaboratives remain relatively new. There is a need toaccelerate their use by giving companies strong tax incentives for sharing data for public good. There’s a need for more study to identify models for data sharing in ways that respect personal privacy and security and enable companies to do well by doing good. My colleagues at The GovLab together with UN Global Pulse and the University of Leiden, for example, published this initial analysis of terms and conditions used when exchanging data as part of a prize-backed challenge. We also need philanthropy to start putting money into “meta research;” it’s not going to be enough to just open up databases: we need to know if the data is good.

After years of growing disenchantment with closed-door institutions, the push for greater use of data in governing can be seen as both a response and as a mirror to the Big Data revolution in business. Although more than 1,000,000 government datasets about everything from air quality to farmers markets are openly available online in downloadable formats, much of the data about environmental, biometric, epidemiological, and physical conditions rest in private hands. Governing better requires a new empiricism for developing solutions together. That will depend on access to these private, not just public data….(More)”