Home PublicationsCommentary Event Recap: How Can Europe Unleash its Untapped Data?

Event Recap: How Can Europe Unleash its Untapped Data?

by Eleni Manis

The European Commission recently proposed measures to increase data sharing across economic sectors. On June 27, 2018, the Center for Data Innovation hosted a panel discussion in Brussels to discuss these proposals, which strengthen the right to reuse public sector datasets, promote open access to publicly-funded research data, and encourage data sharing between companies.

Jörgen Gren, Cabinet Expert for European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip, opened the discussion with an overview of the Commission’s proposals. Data access is fundamental to the development of artificial intelligence, to the digital transformation of healthcare systems, and more generally, to the growth of the EU data economy, Gren explained. The Commission’s revised Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive aims to promote sharing of public sector information for commercial and non-commercial applications beyond the initial purpose of the data’s collection. The Open Science initiative aims to promote researchers’ immediate access to scientific publications and data produced through publicly funded research. The Commission’s report on business-to-business data sharing provides sharing guidelines and encourages the development of data marketplaces. In all, the European Commission intends to invest €9.2 billion from 2021 to 2027 to establish a Digital Europe program supporting these steps and others increasing the EU’s international competitiveness in the data economy.

Moderator Nick Wallace of the Center for Data Innovation noted EU member states’ widely varying performance in open data. Motives for opening-up government data vary across countries, explained Angeles Navarro, Business Developer at OpenDataSoft for Iberoamerica, a French company operating in 16 EU member states. In countries such as Spain, societal pressure to expose corruption and conflicts of interest drives open government data policies. Elsewhere, efficiency goals can motivate open data initiatives. Energy companies share data willingly, aiming to benefit from data-driven innovation in their business community. European countries’ data sharing readiness is reported in the Open Data Maturity study, added Dinand Tinholt, Vice President and Global EU Lead at Capgemini. As Tinholt saw it, political priorities play a large role in determining states’ performances, and public institutions should be pushed to prove why they cannot share data.

Panelists cited a similar mix of reasons—public support, business motivations, and political will—when considering whether momentum for data sharing must come primarily from local efforts or from the European Union. Local efforts cultivate good will for open data, Navarro argued. Where data sharing is used to improve local transportation or to let parents know what their children are eating at school, support for open data grows. At the same time, Tinholt countered, data sharing is not primarily about civic improvement: it is big business. Banks, insurance companies, and car manufacturers all want government data, and taxpayers are already paying for it. The government should be obligated to open its data as a part of government accountability.

Data portals provide crucial support for effective data sharing, the panel agreed. Jérôme Urbain, Associate Partner at Dalberg Data Insights, noted that even shared data is impossible to find in the absence of centralized data marketplaces or frameworks that make it easy to know what data is available from researchers, institutions, and companies. Tinholt pointed to the European Data Portal, which collects data from 34 states’ data portals and makes it usable across borders with a multi-lingual search tool. Even at 850,000 datasets, Urbain observed, this is the tip of the iceberg. Curated data services are needed to help companies and agencies find data they need, much as librarians perform an essential service.

The consensus was that data sharing is compatible with business competitiveness. Navarro pointed to shared data platforms that add financial value to data by providing data analysis or presenting a company’s data in a way that aids competition for contracts. Companies that want more control over their data can allow others to use their data without inspecting it, Tinholt added. Urbain discussed the challenge of convincing telecommunications companies to share data, noting that companies needed to see value in sharing, whether through payment or association with projects for the public good. Gren emphasized governments’ stake in encouraging the private sector to share data by explaining the promise of business-to-government data sharing. Transport companies, for example, collect invaluable information on the conditions of public roads.

Data may fuel the data economy, but unlike oil, it is not a zero-sum game, the panel concluded.  Data can be shared to create additional value for its creators and its users, and increased sharing is key to the EU’s competitiveness in the new data economy.

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