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Data For The Public Interest

The challenges our society currently faces, ranging from natural disasters to traffic congestion, are of a scale and complexity that traditional policy tools cannot always address. However, today’s digital revolution offers several innovative tools that can be used by governments in providing for the general welfare of their people. Data is one of these, and its potential to not only provide for new scientific insights, but also to inform policymaking and deliver better public services to the people is invaluable. If used effectively, data can become an enabler for a better society and a more efficient public sector.

Yet, much of the potential for data and its insights to be used for the benefit of society remains untapped. Not only because the vast majority of data is in the hands of the private sector, but also because the public sector does not seem ready to realise the full potential of data. Due to organisational, technical and legal obstacles (as well as an overall lack of a data-sharing culture) business-to-government (B2G) data-sharing partnerships are still largely isolated, short-term collaborations.

Data for the public interest.

Today a growing number of societal challenges (such as climate change, natural disasters, urban planning and pandemics) are not only extremely complex, but also interrelated. Data represents a key raw material to deal with such challenges.

The huge amount of data produced every day can reveal real-time information that is critical to understanding patterns of human behaviour and activities. In turn, these insights ultimately allow both the private and public sectors to take better decisions.

Data in general, and privately held data in particular, has a high potential to serve the general public interest by informing decision- making, providing for new scientific insights and resolving policy issues, thus enabling more- targeted interventions and improving public- service delivery, amongst other possibilities. This can also bring about significant savings for the public budget.

For example, data collected from mobile phones, social media, digital transactions, global positioning system (GPS) devices and other sensors provide an evidence source that, when acted upon, can provide for sustainable regional and urban planning, environmentally friendly transport and energy systems, saving lives in humanitarian crises or improving education.

More specifically, data from sensors in cities can provide insights to predict tourist inflows, estimate pollution and understand traffic flows.

The public sector is tasked with the responsibility of resolving societal challenges and ensuring the overall welfare of the general public. To achieve this goal, it would significantly benefit from becoming more data driven and cost-efficient. However, public-sector bodies generally lag behind in the data revolution as compared to the private sector. Furthermore, they often cannot access such data or insights, for example due to the lack of a mandate.

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