3 levers for ensuring equitable access to the data economy

Image:  Buffik on Pixabay

Arushi Goel
Specialist, Data Policy and Blockchain, C4IR India, World Economic Forum
Sunil Senan
Senior Vice President and Business Head - Data & Analytics, Infosys
Aaman D. Lamba
Senior Industry Principal & Data Economy Leader, Infosys
Rajan Padmanabhan
Associate Vice President & Senior Principal Technology Architect, Infosys
Gaurav Bhandari
Associate Vice President & Head, Data Consulting, Infosys
Rajeev Nayar
Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Data & Analytics, Infosys
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  • With increased digitalization and emerging tech, data has become ubiquitous, though its potential benefits will be unrealized if access to the data economy remains restricted.
  • Enabling equitable access to the data economy means adherence to the core principles of integrity, inclusivity and interoperability.
  • This can only be ensured using the 3 levers of capital, collaboration and compliance.

Digital technologies generate and consume large amounts of data. This data can be used to provide effective services to citizens, drive sectoral efficiencies, support with developing evidence-based policymaking, and generally allow stakeholders to make better informed decisions. Being non-rivalrous and a non-exhaustible resource/asset, access to data and the ability to use, re-use and share it in a rights-respecting environment has the potential to solve many social, economic and environmental problems, and create opportunities for innovation, whether in existing sectors or by creating new sectors altogether.

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By 2025, it is estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day globally. With so much data being generated, it is inevitable that if harnessed responsibly, data will be a driving force for the global economy. However, all these benefits will remain unrealized if access to the data economy remains restricted and inequitable. Studies suggest that data access and sharing can help generate social and economic benefits worth between 0.1% and 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the case of public-sector data, and between 1% and 2.5% of GDP (in a few studies up to 4% of GDP) when also including private-sector data.

Data-sharing platforms that enable public and private sectors to share data in a rights-respecting environment is one mechanism to enable equitable access in data-driven economies. In 2020, about 25% of large organizations either consumed or monetized data via formal online data marketplaces. This number expected to reach 35% by 2022.

C4IR India, in collaboration with NITI Aayog and various public/private stakeholders, recently released a whitepaper as a part of the Data for Common Purpose Initiative, which details the technological features, governance frameworks, incentivization models and enablers for development of an equitable data exchange ecosystem.

Principles for equitable access

Equitable access to the data economy can be viewed from multiple lenses, depending on the context. For some, it could denote the ability to access usable datasets to derive intelligence from it and access better/new opportunities, while for some it could mean the potential to monetize collected datasets while reducing cost and administrative burdens in managing data. It is, however, indisputable that it is essential for everyone to have access to the data economy to be able to create value and derive benefits from it. As such, equitable access should be based on the following non-exhaustive inviolable principles:

1. Integrity – Throughout the data value chain, efforts must be made to maintain the integrity and security of the data. Data ownership must be clearly identified and respected by all participants, and sharing and using data in a manner such that its creation, collection, exchange and use/re-use can be traced, controlled and audited. This will enhance trust amongst the stakeholders within the data ecosystem. As an example, if a farmer can share their data such that they know who is using the data, for how long and for what purpose, this will build trust in the system and ensure the integrity of the data remains intact. This could be enabled by use of techno-legal solutions that facilitate secure data collection, storage, processing and sharing.

2. Inclusivity – This principle is based on empowering and equipping various stakeholders so that they can effectively participate in the data economy. Access to data networks, marketplaces and providers should be available to small-scale industries as easily as it is to large enterprises who are flush with resources. Discoverability and accessibility of data, beyond the spectrum of demographic structures, economic divide and social belief, will help realize an inclusive data economy.

3. Interoperability – While various data ecosystems will co-exist in a data economy, its value will exponentially increase if the ecosystems are able to communicate with each other, irrespective of technology used, geographical or industry boundaries. Interoperability will strengthen data portability requirements, increase coordination, reduce duplication and create efficiencies. It will also allow datasets from different sources to be combined in a way that meaningful and verifiable analysis can be drawn. Interoperability will also increase the value of the data networks exponentially. It will also act as a balance of power making sure that no one network or enterprise is exerting monopolistic power over others.

Image: Infosys

Levers for equitable access

The aforementioned principles can be realized by applying the three levers of capital, collaboration and compliance.

1. Capital – To make sure that data is suitably captured, transformed, standardized and made available for use, there is a cost attached to it. If a data holder is unable to cover this cost, either through direct monetization or other incentive mechanisms, it may not be possible to develop sustainable data-sharing practices/platforms. As such, investment and capital, both from the public and private sector, are required to build common infrastructure, standards and technologies to share data in an efficient manner. Not only will this reduce the cost to share data, but it will also motivate existing and newer players to innovate. This will likely increase choice and competition, creating a virtuous cycle of supply and demand of quality data. Established players and the government can also invest in data literacy education and enablement to increase the pool of skilled participants in the data economy.

2. Collaboration – Lack of incentives and tested models of monetization/valuation of data is a challenge, especially for the private sector to come together and share data along with the public sector. Incentives that are either or a combination of financial, market driven, reputational/sustainability related or for a public purpose could drive stakeholders to collaborate. Development of consortiums or mutually beneficial partnerships, either through policies or platforms, enable testing and demonstrating the value of sharing/exchanging data. It will also help identify the benefits, costs and risks of data sharing. With time, collaborations will likely lead to network effects, thereby bringing more players within the fold, while scaling and strengthening the ecosystem. For example, Malawi’s Ministry of Health and the country’s Communications Regulatory Authority, in collaboration with Infosys, used mobile data to inform government policy and decision-making. This collaboration led to an increase in allocative efficiency in placement of health posts.

3. Compliance – Data ecosystems span regulations pertaining to data, intellectual property rights, competition laws, technology laws and industry-specific regulations (such as in health or financial systems), among others. Ensuring that data is shared in a trusted environment means adherence to rules and regulations, not just in form but in spirit. Principles of privacy and security by design, purpose limitation and need for an effective grievance redressal mechanism will inculcate trust in the ecosystem. Technology-enabled compliance has advantages and risks since the technology itself is a limiting factor. Sandboxes that come with a prebuilt tech stack and data pre-loaded makes it easier for less-skilled participants to adhere to data compliance and experimentation.

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Unleashing the power of data

While conversations around data protection, privacy and security are integral to the development of an equitable data ecosystem, efforts need to ensue to derive value from data in a way that creates positive environmental, social and economic impacts.

Providing equitable access to the data economy will create a level playing field for the various stakeholders and promote access to data, data-related products, technology, computing power and platforms. This framework applies the levers of capital, collaboration and compliance to enable the core principles of integrity, inclusivity and interoperability. It allows people/entities to be a part of ecosystem, use more data and provides potential to unleash the power of data.

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