Data Collaboratives as an enabling infrastructure for AI for Good


Blog Post by Stefaan G. Verhulst: “…The value of data collaboratives stems from the fact that the supply of and demand for data are generally widely dispersed — spread across government, the private sector, and civil society — and often poorly matched. This failure (a form of “market failure”) results in tremendous inefficiencies and lost potential. Much data that is released is never used. And much data that is actually needed is never made accessible to those who could productively put it to use.

Data collaboratives, when designed responsibly, are the key to addressing this shortcoming. They draw together otherwise siloed data and a dispersed range of expertise, helping match supply and demand, and ensuring that the correct institutions and individuals are using and analyzing data in ways that maximize the possibility of new, innovative social solutions.

Roadmap for Data Collaboratives

Despite their clear potential, the evidence base for data collaboratives is thin. There’s an absence of a systemic, structured framework that can be replicated across projects and geographies, and there’s a lack of clear understanding about what works, what doesn’t, and how best to maximize the potential of data collaboratives.

At the GovLab, we’ve been working to address these shortcomings. For emerging economies considering the use of data collaboratives, whether in pursuit of Artificial Intelligence or other solutions, we present six steps that can be considered in order to create data collaborative that are more systematic, sustainable, and responsible.

The need for making Data Collaboratives Systematic, Sustainable and Responsible
  • Increase Evidence and Awareness
  • Increase Readiness and Capacity
  • Address Data Supply and Demand Inefficiencies and Uncertainties
  • Establish a New “Data Stewards” Function
  • Develop and strengthen policies and governance practices for data collaboration

Digital Data for Development


LinkedIn: “The World Bank Group and LinkedIn share a commitment to helping workers around the world access opportunities that make good use of their talents and skills. The two organizations have come together to identify new ways that data from LinkedIn can help inform policymakers who seek to boost employment and grow their economies.

This site offers data and automated visuals of industries where LinkedIn data is comprehensive enough to provide an emerging picture. The data complements a wealth of official sources and can offer a more real-time view in some areas particularly for new, rapidly changing digital and technology industries.

The data shared in the first phase of this collaboration focuses on 100+ countries with at least 100,000 LinkedIn members each, distributed across 148 industries and 50,000 skills categories. In the near term, it will help World Bank Group teams and government partners pinpoint ways that developing countries could stimulate growth and expand opportunity, especially as disruptive technologies reshape the economic landscape. As LinkedIn’s membership and digital platforms continue to grow in developing countries, this collaboration will assess the possibility to expand the sectors and countries covered in the next annual update.

This site offers downloadable data, visualizations, and an expanding body of insights and joint research from the World Bank Group and LinkedIn. The data is being made accessible as a public good, though it will be most useful for policy analysts, economists, and researchers….(More)”.

Predictive Big Data Analytics using the UK Biobank Data


Paper by Ivo D Dinov et al: “The UK Biobank is a rich national health resource that provides enormous opportunities for international researchers to examine, model, and analyze census-like multisource healthcare data. The archive presents several challenges related to aggregation and harmonization of complex data elements, feature heterogeneity and salience, and health analytics. Using 7,614 imaging, clinical, and phenotypic features of 9,914 subjects we performed deep computed phenotyping using unsupervised clustering and derived two distinct sub-cohorts. Using parametric and nonparametric tests, we determined the top 20 most salient features contributing to the cluster separation. Our approach generated decision rules to predict the presence and progression of depression or other mental illnesses by jointly representing and modeling the significant clinical and demographic variables along with the derived salient neuroimaging features. We reported consistency and reliability measures of the derived computed phenotypes and the top salient imaging biomarkers that contributed to the unsupervised clustering. This clinical decision support system identified and utilized holistically the most critical biomarkers for predicting mental health, e.g., depression. External validation of this technique on different populations may lead to reducing healthcare expenses and improving the processes of diagnosis, forecasting, and tracking of normal and pathological aging….(More)”.

Statistics Estonia to coordinate data governance


Article by Miriam van der Sangen at CBS: “In 2018, Statistics Estonia launched a new strategy for the period 2018-2022. This strategy addresses the organisation’s aim to produce statistics more quickly while minimising the response burden on both businesses and citizens. Another element in the strategy is addressing the high expectations in Estonian society regarding the use of data. ‘We aim to transform Statistics Estonia into a national data agency,’ says Director General Mägi. ‘This means our role as a producer of official statistics will be enlarged by data governance responsibilities in the public sector. Taking on such responsibilities requires a clear vision of the whole public data ecosystem and also agreement to establish data stewards in most public sector institutions.’…

the Estonian Parliament passed new legislation that effectively expanded the number of official tasks for Statistics Estonia. Mägi elaborates: ‘Most importantly, we shall be responsible for coordinating data governance. The detailed requirements and conditions of data governance will be specified further in the coming period.’ Under the new Act, Statistics Estonia will also have more possibilities to share data with other parties….

Statistics Estonia is fully committed to producing statistics which are based on big data. Mägi explains: ‘At the moment, we are actively working on two big data projects. One project involves the use of smart electricity meters. In this project, we are looking into ways to visualise business and household electricity consumption information. The second project involves web scraping of prices and enterprise characteristics. This project is still in an initial phase, but we can already see that the use of web scraping can improve the efficiency of our production process.’ We are aiming to extend the web scraping project by also identifying e-commerce and innovation activities of enterprises.’

Yet another ambitious goal for Statistics Estonia lies in the field of data science. ‘Similarly to Statistics Netherlands, we established experimental statistics and data mining activities years ago. Last year, we developed a so-called think-tank service, providing insights from data into all aspects of our lives. Think of birth, education, employment, et cetera. Our key clients are the various ministries, municipalities and the private sector. The main aim in the coming years is to speed up service time thanks to visualisations and data lake solutions.’ …(More)”.

Facebook’s AI team maps the whole population of Africa


Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch: “A new map of nearly all of Africa shows exactly where the continent’s 1.3 billion people live, down to the meter, which could help everyone from local governments to aid organizations. The map joins others like it from Facebook  created by running satellite imagery through a machine learning model.

It’s not exactly that there was some mystery about where people live, but the degree of precision matters. You may know that a million people live in a given region, and that about half are in the bigger city and another quarter in assorted towns. But that leaves hundreds of thousands only accounted for in the vaguest way.

Fortunately, you can always inspect satellite imagery and pick out the spots where small villages and isolated houses and communities are located. The only problem is that Africa is big. Really big. Manually labeling the satellite imagery even from a single mid-sized country like Gabon or Malawi would take a huge amount of time and effort. And for many applications of the data, such as coordinating the response to a natural disaster or distributing vaccinations, time lost is lives lost.

Better to get it all done at once then, right? That’s the idea behind Facebook’s Population Density Maps project, which had already mapped several countries over the last couple of years before the decision was made to take on the entire African continent….

“The maps from Facebook ensure we focus our volunteers’ time and resources on the places they’re most needed, improving the efficacy of our programs,” said Tyler Radford, executive director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, one of the project’s partners.

The core idea is straightforward: Match census data (how many people live in a region) with structure data derived from satellite imagery to get a much better idea of where those people are located.

“With just the census data, the best you can do is assume that people live everywhere in the district – buildings, fields, and forests alike,” said Facebook engineer James Gill. “But once you know the building locations, you can skip the fields and forests and only allocate the population to the buildings. This gives you very detailed 30 meter by 30 meter population maps.”

That’s several times more accurate than any extant population map of this size. The analysis is done by a machine learning agent trained on OpenStreetMap data from all over the world, where people have labeled and outlined buildings and other features.

First the huge amount of Africa’s surface that obviously has no structure had to be removed from consideration, reducing the amount of space the team had to evaluate by a factor of a thousand or more. Then, using a region-specific algorithm (because things look a lot different in coastal Morocco than they do in central Chad), the model identifies patches that contain a building….(More)”.

Responsible Data Governance of Neuroscience Big Data


Paper by B. Tyr Fothergill et al: “Current discussions of the ethical aspects of big data are shaped by concerns regarding the social consequences of both the widespread adoption of machine learning and the ways in which biases in data can be replicated and perpetuated. We instead focus here on the ethical issues arising from the use of big data in international neuroscience collaborations.

Neuroscience innovation relies upon neuroinformatics, large-scale data collection and analysis enabled by novel and emergent technologies. Each step of this work involves aspects of ethics, ranging from concerns for adherence to informed consent or animal protection principles and issues of data re-use at the stage of data collection, to data protection and privacy during data processing and analysis, and issues of attribution and intellectual property at the data-sharing and publication stages.

Significant dilemmas and challenges with far-reaching implications are also inherent, including reconciling the ethical imperative for openness and validation with data protection compliance, and considering future innovation trajectories or the potential for misuse of research results. Furthermore, these issues are subject to local interpretations within different ethical cultures applying diverse legal systems emphasising different aspects. Neuroscience big data require a concerted approach to research across boundaries, wherein ethical aspects are integrated within a transparent, dialogical data governance process. We address this by developing the concept of ‘responsible data governance’, applying the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) to the challenges presented by governance of neuroscience big data in the Human Brain Project (HBP)….(More)”.

Responsible data sharing in international health research: a systematic review of principles and norms


Paper by Shona Kalkman, Menno Mostert, Christoph Gerlinger, Johannes J. M. van Delden and Ghislaine J. M. W. van Thiel: ” Large-scale linkage of international clinical datasets could lead to unique insights into disease aetiology and facilitate treatment evaluation and drug development. Hereto, multi-stakeholder consortia are currently designing several disease-specific translational research platforms to enable international health data sharing. Despite the recent adoption of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the procedures for how to govern responsible data sharing in such projects are not at all spelled out yet. In search of a first, basic outline of an ethical governance framework, we set out to explore relevant ethical principles and norms…

We observed an abundance of principles and norms with considerable convergence at the aggregate level of four overarching themes: societal benefits and value; distribution of risks, benefits and burdens; respect for individuals and groups; and public trust and engagement. However, at the level of principles and norms we identified substantial variation in the phrasing and level of detail, the number and content of norms considered necessary to protect a principle, and the contextual approaches in which principles and norms are used....

While providing some helpful leads for further work on a coherent governance framework for data sharing, the current collection of principles and norms prompts important questions about how to streamline terminology regarding de-identification and how to harmonise the identified principles and norms into a coherent governance framework that promotes data sharing while securing public trust….(More)”

Data-driven models of governance across borders


Introduction to Special Issue of FirstMonday, edited by Payal Arora and Hallam Stevens: “This special issue looks closely at contemporary data systems in diverse global contexts and through this set of papers, highlights the struggles we face as we negotiate efficiency and innovation with universal human rights and social inclusion. The studies presented in these essays are situated in diverse models of policy-making, governance, and/or activism across borders. Attention to big data governance in western contexts has tended to highlight how data increases state and corporate surveillance of citizens, affecting rights to privacy. By moving beyond Euro-American borders — to places such as Africa, India, China, and Singapore — we show here how data regimes are motivated and understood on very different terms….

To establish a kind of baseline, the special issue opens by considering attitudes toward big data in Europe. René König’s essay examines the role of “citizen conferences” in understanding the public’s view of big data in Germany. These “participatory technology assessments” demonstrated that citizens were concerned about the control of big data (should it be under the control of the government or individuals?), about the need for more education about big data technologies, and the need for more government regulation. Participants expressed, in many ways, traditional liberal democratic views and concerns about these technologies centered on individual rights, individual responsibilities, and education. Their proposed solutions too — more education and more government regulation — fit squarely within western liberal democratic traditions.

In contrast to this, Payal Arora’s essay draws us immediately into the vastly different contexts of data governance in India and China. India’s Aadhaar biometric identification system, through tracking its citizens with iris scanning and other measures, promises to root out corruption and provide social services to those most in need. Likewise, China’s emerging “social credit system,” while having immense potential for increasing citizen surveillance, offers ways of increasing social trust and fostering more responsible social behavior online and offline. Although the potential for authoritarian abuses of both systems is high, Arora focuses on how these technologies are locally understood and lived on an everyday basis, which spans from empowering to oppressing their people. From this perspective, the technologies offer modes of “disrupt[ing] systems of inequality and oppression” that should open up new conversations about what democratic participation can and should look like in China and India.

If China and India offer contrasting non-democratic and democratic cases, we turn next to a context that is neither completely western nor completely non-western, neither completely democratic nor completely liberal. Hallam Stevens’ account of government data in Singapore suggests the very different role that data can play in this unique political and social context. Although the island state’s data.gov.sg participates in global discourses of sharing, “open data,” and transparency, much of the data made available by the government is oriented towards the solution of particular economic and social problems. Ultimately, the ways in which data are presented may contribute to entrenching — rather than undermining or transforming — existing forms of governance. The account of data and its meanings that is offered here once again challenges the notion that such data systems can or should be understood in the same ways that similar systems have been understood in the western world.

If systems such as Aadhaar, “social credit,” and data.gov.sg profess to make citizens and governments more visible and legible, Rolien Hoyngexamines what may remain invisible even within highly pervasive data-driven systems. In the world of e-waste, data-driven modes of surveillance and logistics are critical for recycling. But many blind spots remain. Hoyng’s account reminds us that despite the often-supposed all-seeing-ness of big data, we should remain attentive to what escapes the data’s gaze. Here, in midst of datafication, we find “invisibility, uncertainty, and, therewith, uncontrollability.” This points also to the gap between the fantasies of how data-driven systems are supposed to work, and their realization in the world. Such interstices allow individuals — those working with e-waste in Shenzhen or Africa, for example — to find and leverage hidden opportunities. From this perspective, the “blind spots of big data” take on a very different significance.

Big data systems provide opportunities for some, but reduce those for others. Mark Graham and Mohammad Amir Anwar examine what happens when online outsourcing platforms create a “planetary labor market.” Although providing opportunities for many people to make money via their Internet connection, Graham and Anwar’s interviews with workers across sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate how “platform work” alters the balance of power between labor and capital. For many low-wage workers across the globe, the platform- and data-driven planetary labor market means downward pressure on wages, fewer opportunities to collectively organize, less worker agency, and less transparency about the nature of the work itself. Moving beyond bold pronouncements that the “world is flat” and big data as empowering, Graham and Anwar show how data-driven systems of employment can act to reduce opportunities for those residing in the poorest parts of the world. The affordances of data and platforms create a planetary labor market for global capital but tie workers ever-more tightly to their own localities. Once again, the valances of global data systems look very different from this “bottom-up” perspective.

Philippa Metcalfe and Lina Dencik shift this conversation from the global movement of labor to that of people, as they write about the implications of European datafication systems on the governance of refugees entering this region. This work highlights how intrinsic to datafication systems is the classification, coding, and collating of people to legitimize the extent of their belonging in the society they seek to live in. The authors argue that these datafied regimes of power have substantively increased their role in the regulating of human mobility in the guise of national security. These means of data surveillance can foster new forms of containment and entrapment of entire groups of people, creating further divides between “us” and “them.” Through vast interoperable databases, digital registration processes, biometric data collection, and social media identity verification, refugees have become some of the most monitored groups at a global level while at the same time, their struggles remain the most invisible in popular discourse….(More)”.

Privacy-Preserved Data Sharing for Evidence-Based Policy Decisions: A Demonstration Project Using Human Services Administrative Records for Evidence-Building Activities


Paper by the Bipartisan Policy Center: “Emerging privacy-preserving technologies and approaches hold considerable promise for improving data privacy and confidentiality in the 21st century. At the same time, more information is becoming accessible to support evidence-based policymaking.

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking unanimously recommended that further attention be given to the deployment of privacy-preserving data-sharing applications. If these types of applications can be tested and scaled in the near-term, they could vastly improve insights about important policy problems by using disparate datasets. At the same time, the approaches could promote substantial gains in privacy for the American public.

There are numerous ways to engage in privacy-preserving data sharing. This paper primarily focuses on secure computation, which allows information to be accessed securely, guarantees privacy, and permits analysis without making private information available. Three key issues motivated the launch of a domestic secure computation demonstration project using real government-collected data:

  • Using new privacy-preserving approaches addresses pressing needs in society. Current widely accepted approaches to managing privacy risks—like preventing the identification of individuals or organizations in public datasets—will become less effective over time. While there are many practices currently in use to keep government-collected data confidential, they do not often incorporate modern developments in computer science, mathematics, and statistics in a timely way. New approaches can enable researchers to combine datasets to improve the capability for insights, without being impeded by traditional concerns about bringing large, identifiable datasets together. In fact, if successful, traditional approaches to combining data for analysis may not be as necessary.
  • There are emerging technical applications to deploy certain privacy-preserving approaches in targeted settings. These emerging procedures are increasingly enabling larger-scale testing of privacy-preserving approaches across a variety of policy domains, governmental jurisdictions, and agency settings to demonstrate the privacy guarantees that accompany data access and use.
  • Widespread adoption and use by public administrators will only follow meaningful and successful demonstration projects. For example, secure computation approaches are complex and can be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with their potential. Implementing new privacy-preserving approaches will require thoughtful attention to public policy implications, public opinions, legal restrictions, and other administrative limitations that vary by agency and governmental entity.

This project used real-world government data to illustrate the applicability of secure computation compared to the classic data infrastructure available to some local governments. The project took place in a domestic, non-intelligence setting to increase the salience of potential lessons for public agencies….(More)”.

Data: The Lever to Promote Innovation in the EU


Blog Post by Juan Murillo Arias: “…But in order for data to truly become a lever that foments innovation in benefit of society as a whole, we must understand and address the following factors:

1. Disconnected, disperse sources. As users of digital services (transportation, finance, telecommunications, news or entertainment) we leave a different digital footprint for each service that we use. These footprints, which are different facets of the same polyhedron, can even be contradictory on occasion. For this reason, they must be seen as complementary. Analysts should be aware that they must cross data sources from different origins in order to create a reliable picture of our preferences, otherwise we will be basing decisions on partial or biased information. How many times do we receive advertising for items we have already purchased, or tourist destinations where we have already been? And this is just one example of digital marketing. When scoring financial solvency, or monitoring health, the more complete the digital picture is of the person, the more accurate the diagnosis will be.

Furthermore, from the user’s standpoint, proper management of their entire, disperse digital footprint is a challenge. Perhaps centralized consent would be very beneficial. In the financial world, the PSD2 regulations have already forced banks to open this information to other banks if customers so desire. Fostering competition and facilitating portability is the purpose, but this opening up has also enabled the development of new services of information aggregation that are very useful to financial services users. It would be ideal if this step of breaking down barriers and moving toward a more transparent market took place simultaneously in all sectors in order to avoid possible distortions to competition and by extension, consumer harm. Therefore, customer consent would open the door to building a more accurate picture of our preferences.

2. The public and private sectors’ asymmetric capacity to gather data.This is related to citizens using public services less frequently than private services in the new digital channels. However, governments could benefit from the information possessed by private companies. These anonymous, aggregated data can help to ensure a more dynamic public management. Even personal data could open the door to customized education or healthcare on an individual level. In order to analyze all of this, the European Commissionhas created a working group including 23 experts. The purpose is to come up with a series of recommendations regarding the best legal, technical and economic framework to encourage this information transfer across sectors.

3. The lack of incentives for companies and citizens to encourage the reuse of their data.The reality today is that most companies solely use the sources internally. Only a few have decided to explore data sharing through different models (for academic research or for the development of commercial services). As a result of this and other factors, the public sector largely continues using the survey method to gather information instead of reading the digital footprint citizens produce. Multiple studies have demonstrated that this digital footprint would be useful to describe socioeconomic dynamics and monitor the evolution of official statistical indicators. However, these studies have rarely gone on to become pilot projects due to the lack of incentives for a private company to open up to the public sector, or to society in general, making this new activity sustainable.

4. Limited commitment to the diversification of services.Another barrier is the fact that information based product development is somewhat removed from the type of services that the main data generators (telecommunications, banks, commerce, electricity, transportation, etc.) traditionally provide. Therefore, these data based initiatives are not part of their main business and are more closely tied to companies’ innovation areas where exploratory proofs of concept are often not consolidated as a new line of business.

5. Bidirectionality. Data should also flow from the public sector to the rest of society. The first regulatory framework was created for this purpose. Although it is still very recent (the PSI Directive on the re-use of public sector data was passed in 2013), it is currently being revised, in attempt to foster the consolidation of an open data ecosystem that emanates from the public sector as well. On the one hand it would enable greater transparency, and on the other, the development of solutions to improve multiple fields in which public actors are key, such as the environment, transportation and mobility, health, education, justice and the planning and execution of public works. Special emphasis will be placed on high value data sets, such as statistical or geospatial data — data with tremendous potential to accelerate the emergence of a wide variety of information based data products and services that add value.The Commission will begin working with the Member States to identify these data sets.

In its report, Creating Data through Open Data, the European open data portal estimates that government agencies making their data accessible will inject an extra €65 billion in the EU economy this year.

6. The commitment to analytical training and financial incentives for innovation.They are the key factors that have given rise to the digital unicorns that have emerged, more so in the U.S. and China than in Europe….(More)”