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Current developments related to data-driven innovation, including in the context of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, have made data access and sharing more crucial than ever. Evidence presented in this report shows how enhancing access to and sharing of data (EASD) can help maximise the social and economic value of data re-use. It can increase the value of data to the data holder, and even more so to secondary data users, with additional positive spill-over benefits for country economies and society at large.

Overall, data access and sharing is estimated to 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. The estimated magnitude of the effects depends on the scope of the data and the degree of data openness, according to the studies discussed in this report.

However, despite a growing need for data and evidence of the economic and social benefits, data access and sharing has not achieved its potential. Individuals, businesses, and governments often face barriers to data access, which may be compounded by reluctance to share. To facilitate, encourage and enhance data access and sharing for the benefit of all, the following three major challenges need to be addressed:

  1. 1. Balancing the benefits of enhancing data “openness” with the risks, while considering legitimate private, national and public interests. These risks may include, but are not limited to, the risk of (personal) data breaches that could threaten individuals’ privacy and the violation of commercial and non-commercial interests. A risk management approach may help mitigate risks, balance trade-offs and promote data access and sharing, including across borders. However, a risk management approach remains challenging to implement for most organisations, including small and medium-sized enterprises.

  2. 2. Reinforcing trust and empowering users through pro-active stakeholder engagement and community building. Communities of data users and data holders can facilitate data sharing and help maximise the value of data re-use, although attention is required to address the risk of anti-competitive effects that could result from data-sharing partnerships among (potential) competitors. These communities can be heterogeneous and may include stakeholders with conflicting or opposing interests. Their establishment and management may involve significant costs, including for the development of data-related skills, infrastructures, and standards as well as for maintaining engagement.

  3. 3. Encouraging the provision of data through coherent incentive mechanisms and sustainable business models while acknowledging the limitations of (data) markets. This may require i) aligning current incentives structures and ii) promoting where possible the use of business models for the sustainable provision and commercialisation of data, while iii) considering the detrimental effects of mandatory access to data. It may also require iv) reducing uncertainties about “data ownership” by acknowledging the role of intellectual property rights, other ownership-like rights, and the importance of freedom of contract in business-to-business (B2B) data agreements and the role of data commons for the governance of shared resources of common interests.

When addressing these multidimensional challenges, policy makers need to avoid the “data policy pitfall” by seeking one-size-fits all (“silver-bullet”) solutions. This report shows that there is no single optimal level of data “openness”; the value of data access and sharing depends on the type of the data and the context in which that data are re-used, including the social, economic, and cultural environment in which activities take place.

In promoting data access and sharing policy makers will thus need to take account of: i) the sensitivity of the data and the degree by which personal data could be re-identified; ii) the overlapping rights and interests of all relevant stakeholders; and iii) the manner by which data are generated, in order to better take into account the contributions of the various stakeholders in the creation of that data.

The report further examines more than 200 policy initiatives across 37 countries, which reveal the following policy trends:

  • Most policy initiatives still focus on public-sector data (almost 65% of all initiatives). Most of these initiatives focus on open access to government data (open government data). There is also a noticeable trend towards facilitating data sharing within the public sector (almost 15% of all initiatives on public-sector data) and enhancing access to and sharing of geospatial data (e.g. maps) and transportation data.

  • Few countries have policy initiatives to facilitate data sharing within the private sector (almost 15% of all initiatives), although sharing and re-use of private-sector data is the emerging challenge most frequently cited. Most of the policy initiatives (around 55%) are based on voluntary schemes. Among those that are mandatory, most focus on regulating access to i) “data of public interests”; and ii) data of network industries (e.g. transportation and energy) for ensuring the interoperability of “smart” services. In a few countries, data portability with a focus on consumer data is emerging as another policy means for promoting data access and sharing in the private sector.

  • Increasing data analytic capacities, either in the public or private sector, is addressed by only 12% of all policy initiatives, despite the need for complementary investment in data-related skills and infrastructures. A quarter of these initiatives focus on the establishment of data analytic (technology) centres that provide support and or guidance in the re-use and analysis of data for public and/or private-sector entities. Fewer initiatives focus on supporting investments in data-related innovation and research and development.

Recognising that data openness is a continuum (rather than a binary concept) and based on the good practice and use cases examined, this report discusses several approaches that policy makers may wish to consider when encouraging, facilitating and enhancing data access and sharing. These approaches represent different strategies along the data “openness” continuum that can be leveraged to address major challenges discussed in the report, among which the most prominent are:

  • Contractual agreements, which remain crucial as a market-based approach to enhance data access and sharing in a B2B context, in particular if leveraged through data markets.

  • Open data, the most extreme approach to data openness and the most frequently used by governments, which is not always appropriate for EASD. Legitimate private and public interests may justify more restricted approaches to data access and sharing.

  • Data portability, which provides restricted access to those involved in the creation and collection of data, such as data subjects in respect to their personal data. It promises to empower users by giving them more control over their data, but it may also expose them to new risks.

  • Restricted data-sharing arrangements, which are used where data are considered too confidential to be shared openly with the public (as open data) or where there are legitimate (commercial and non-commercial) interests in conflict with such open sharing. These arrangements are found typically in science and health care research, but they also exist across the economy as data partnerships and “data for social good” initiatives.

The analysis uncovers the growing need for data-governance frameworks that incorporate whole-of-government approaches and are coherent across areas, sectors and ideally countries. A few countries are in the process of establishing national data strategies to meet this need. Further analytical work is needed to examine the commonalities among these strategies and the challenges countries face in their development and implementation.

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Executive summary