WASHINGTON—In the digital economy, the availability of data is intricately linked to economic opportunities, government services, and health-care outcomes, but gaps are forming between individuals and communities who are adequately represented in public and private datasets and able to use it productively and those who aren’t. Left unaddressed, this divide between data “haves” and data “have-nots” will exacerbate social and economic inequalities in the United States, according to a new report from the Center for Data Innovation.
The Center calls on policymakers to make addressing the data divide a priority—similar to closing the so-called “digital divide” in access to information technology (IT), broadband Internet service, and digital skills. The report, which outlines a specific policy agenda, will be the focus of an August 30 event featuring a keynote by U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross and a panel of experts.
“Like social capital, data is a necessary resource that individuals can use to make better decisions and utilize services to lead happier, healthier, and more satisfying lives,” said Gillian Diebold, a policy analyst with the Center for Data Innovation, who authored the new report. “Take, for example, health care: patients without detailed electronic health records won’t benefit from health analytics and they may receive suboptimal care, and patients that are part of groups underrepresented in genetic databases will not benefit from precision medicine. The data divide means that not only will some data-driven services not work for certain people and groups, but data-driven decisions may even be wrong or harmful for them. Without action, a data-driven world will leave some of these individuals and communities behind.”
The Center’s analysis provides an overview of different data divides in the United States, including those that stem from insufficient and inadequate data in education systems, healthcare, financial services, and environmental monitoring as well as those that stem from the underrepresentation of certain demographics, such as gender, race, disability, and income.
The report offers nine recommendations for how policymakers can address the data divide:
- Improve federal data quality by developing targeted outreach programs for underrepresented communities.
- Enhance data quality for non-government data.
- Ensure comparable data collection and monitoring methodologies among the government and civil society.
- Support increased utilization and incorporation of crowdsourced and private-sector data into official datasets.
- Improve documentation and quality of prominent AI datasets to reduce the number of situations with biased results.
- Provide funding from core federal agencies to close both the digital divide and the data divide.
- Direct federal agencies to update or establish data strategies to ensure data collection is integrated into diverse communities.
- Amend the Federal Data Strategy (FDS) to identify data divide and direct agency action.
- Establish a bipartisan federal commission to study the data divide.
How the data divide affects individuals and society and what policymakers should do about it will be the focus of an August 30 Center for Data Innovation webinar, “How Can the United States Address the Data Divide.”
U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross will deliver keynote remarks, and panelists will include Dominique Harrison, director of racial equity design and data initiative at Citi Ventures Innovation; Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University; Ioana Tanase, accessibility program manager at Microsoft; and Chris Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech.
“The data economy and data-driven innovation can transform society for the better, but only if data collection and use is inclusive,” said Diebold. “Policymakers should work to ensure that all individuals and communities have access to high-quality data.”