Recent years have seen exponential growth in the amount of data being generated and stored around the world. There is increasing recognition that this data can play a key role in solving some of the most difficult public problems we face.
However, much of the potentially useful data is currently privately held and not available for public insights. Data in the form of web clicks, social “likes,” geo location and online purchases are typically tightly controlled, usually by entities in the private sector. Companies today generate an ever-growing stream of information from our proliferating sensors and devices. Increasingly, they—and various other actors—are asking if there is a way to make this data available for the public good. There is an ongoing search for new models of corporate responsibility in the digital era around data toward the creation of “data collaboratives”.
Today, the GovLab is excited to launch a new resource for Data Collaboratives (datacollaboratives.org). Data Collaboratives are an emerging form of public-private partnership in which participants from different sectors — including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies — exchange data to help solve public problems.
The resource results from different partnerships with UNICEF (focused on creating data collaboratives to improve children’s lives) and Omidyar Network (studying new ways to match (open) data demand and supply to increase impact).
Natalia Adler, a data, research and policy planning specialist and the UNICEF Data Collaboratives Project Lead notes, “At UNICEF, we’re dealing with the world’s most complex problems affecting children. Data Collaboratives offer an exciting opportunity to tap on previously inaccessible datasets and mobilize a wide range of data expertise to advance child rights around the world. It’s all about connecting the dots.”
To better understand the potential of these Collaboratives, the GovLab collected information on dozens of examples from across the world. These many and diverse initiatives clearly suggest the potential of Data Collaboratives to improve people’s lives when done responsibly. As Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder of the GovLab, puts it: “In the coming months and years, Data Collaboratives will be essential vehicles for harnessing the vast stores of privately held data toward the public good.”
In particular, our research to date suggests that Data Collaboratives offer a number of potential benefits, including enhanced:
- Situational Awareness and Response: For example, Orbital Insights and the World Bank are using satellite imagery to measure and track poverty. This technology can, in some instances, “be more accurate than U.S. census data.”
- Public Service Design and Delivery: Global mapping company, Esri, and Waze’s Connected Citizen’s program are using crowdsourced traffic information to help governments design better transportation.
- Knowledge Creation and Transfer: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 10 biopharmaceutical companies and a number of non-profit organizations are sharing data to create new, more effective diagnostics and therapies for medical patients.
- Prediction and Forecasting: Intel and the Earth Research Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) are using satellite imagery to predict drought conditions and develop targeted interventions for farmers and governments.
- Impact Assessment and Evaluation: Nielsen and the World Food Program (WFP) have been using data collected via mobile phone surveys to better monitor food insecurity in order to advise the WFP’s resource allocations.
Despite increased awareness about these potential benefits, there exists little analysis of what works and why, and only a provisional understanding of how, precisely, data can be shared and used to enhance the public good.
DataCollaboratives.org seeks to address these shortcomings and spur greater experimentation in the field. It explores potential and realized societal benefits, motivations and incentives to encourage participation, as well as risks and potential harms related to cross-sector data sharing. The site includes a number of interactive features, including:
Data Collaboratives Explorer
Experiments with Data Collaboratives are emerging around the world. The Data Collaboratives Explorer provides dozens of examples of cases where public value was created by exchanging data, in sectors like health, crisis response, environment and infrastructure. Users can also submit new Data Collaboratives that we will evaluate and add to the Explorer.
Designing a Data Collaborative
How can institutions establish Data Collaboratives and unlock previously inaccessible data to help solve public problems? Our Data Collaboratives Guide outlines Eight Steps for designing and implementing a Data Collaborative, complete with examples, enablers and resources to improve outcomes.
Data Responsibility Framework
Our research indicates that, along with clear benefits, Data Collaboratives do also introduce certain risks, notably to privacy and security. Toward that end we are also developing a data responsibility decision tree leveraging the work we have done prior toward establishing a Data Responsibility Framework.
The site also includes a number of additional resources, including Selected Readings, a listing relevant events and much more. We welcome your feedback and suggestions. To learn more about the GovLab’s work on Data Collaboratives, or to explore a possible collaboration, please contact Stefaan Verhulst at
To learn more about the GovLab’s work on Data Collaboratives, or to explore a possible collaboration, please contact Stefaan Verhulst at firstname.lastname@example.org.