Executive summary

Data and their flow, including across borders, underpin economic activity and well-being in global digital economies and societies. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted data’s potential to underpin crucial, life-saving services. However, it also underscored persistent gaps in the availability of data, notably real-time health data, that diminish this potential and could affect countries’ preparedness for future crises. Access to data can empower consumers to make better purchasing and lifestyle decisions, including embracing societal goals such as sustainable consumption patterns. However, this opportunity remains largely untapped. For firms, the use of data can spur productivity and innovation, but uptake of crucial data processing technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence remains skewed towards larger firms. Governments can use data to improve the design and delivery of public policies and services, but public sector data governance frameworks are often siloed and restricted to specific domains or applications, and thus fail to address policy issues applicable to data governance across the board.

Organisations increasingly seek to collect, access and productively use data, indicating that data are valuable – but measuring that value remains challenging. Approaches explored by national statistical offices focus on measuring investment in, and stocks of, data assets. Existing estimates, which are all based on aggregating the costs associated with data collection, transformation and use, are sizeable: annual investment in total data assets was between 2.2% and 2.9% of value added in Australia (2016), 1.4% and 1.9% in Canada (2018), 2.4% and 3.0% in the Netherlands (2017) and 0.8% in the United States (2020). Other estimates based on a broader definition of data assets range between 3.8% and 6.6% of the market sector’s value added in selected European countries. With other international organisations, the OECD is developing guidance to measuring data as an asset in the System of National Accounts. Nonetheless, because most data are generated, collected and used within organisations, and are not shared or traded, there is no single market price of data. Existing metrics do not capture data’s strategic and innovative value to organisations, nor to society at large.

Data’s main potential for growth and well-being relies on increased data openness: the more data can be shared and reused, the more they can drive growth and well-being. However, increased access and sharing can create risks, including concerns related to the violation of privacy and personal data protection rights and intellectual property rights as well as digital security risks. In parallel, increasing data collection by firms has given rise to concerns about competitive dynamics. These concerns are supported by empirical evidence on slowing productivity growth, rising industry concentration and growing gaps in technology adoption between firms of different sizes across the OECD. Regulatory and policy measures to address these risks and challenges – including conditions on cross-border data flows – can have unintended effects on other policy objectives and undermine the benefits of data use. Leveraging existing commonalities between countries together with informed policy making, including the adoption of organisational and technical measures, can support more calibrated policy approaches that address these risks and promote trust, yet enable responsible data access and sharing.

Data governance is increasingly relevant to different aspects of economies and societies, across policy domains from trade to competition and public governance. While these domains raise different challenges, they share a common set of data governance policy tensions: between openness and control, around incentives for investment in data and complementary resources, and between overlapping interests and frameworks. Data also underpin the functioning and operation of digital technologies, including artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. As these digital technologies diffuse further across sectors and aspects of life, questions about how data is generated, collected, used and governed have become increasingly salient in today’s digital society. Whole-of-government policy approaches to data governance, which integrate cross-cutting economic, social, cultural, technical, and legal governance issues across policy domains, such as through national data strategies, are essential to maximising the benefits of data for economies and societies, while addressing related risks and challenges and protecting important rights and interests.

As a trusted forum for evidence-based, multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder policy analysis and international dialogue, the OECD can help governments better govern data in the digital age. The OECD’s 2021 Recommendation of the Council on Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data is a foundational standard to guide countries in realising the benefits of data while mitigating potential risks. It builds on pioneering advances made by the OECD in developing common principles for health data governance, access to research data and privacy. Other examples include supporting countries in harnessing their commonalities and advancing discussions on promoting cross-border data flows with trust, including through the articulation of commonalities in government access to personal data held by the private sector for law enforcement and national security purposes. The OECD also furthers efforts to open data, including data collected by the public sector. Efforts at the OECD have positive international spillovers, as requirements for data collection, management and use proliferate easily through an interconnected world. The OECD helps develop shared norms, standards and rules, as well as provide a platform for shared learning to accelerate data’s use globally. The Going Digital Guide to Data Governance Policy Making, which complements this report, compiles and draws on real-life examples from countries, and provides a practical checklist to assist countries in developing their data governance policies.


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