Data and the private sector: What’s on the horizon?

Data collaboratives a new form of exchange that goes beyond traditional public/private models are now being used to address some of the world’s most pressing problems. A rapid rise in the past few years in both the quality and quantity of data has lead us to question the potential of this wealth of information to address issues such as world hunger, disaster relief, and disease prevention and ultimately improve lives. The key to tapping into this potential lies in working together. At UNICEF, we’re hoping that data science/big data analytics can help us shed light on the world’s most complex problems affecting children. But we realize that we can’t do it alone.

In partnership with The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and the Omidyar Network, UNICEF has launched a new website, DataCollaboratives.org,  to encourage the formation of public-private partnerships in which participants from different sectors — private companies, research institutions, government agencies, and others — exchange data to help solve pressing public problems. The website catalogues dozens of cases in which data collaboratives are being used for the public good. The impact of these collaborations range from improved public service design and delivery, enhanced knowledge creation and transfer, cutting-edge prediction and forecasting, to more effective impact assessment and evaluation.

According to Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab’s co-founder and director of research and the head of its Data Collaboratives Initiative, the diverse examples detailed on the site clearly demonstrate the potential of data collaboration as an emerging model of inter-sector digital philanthropy.”In the coming months and years, they will be essential vehicles for harnessing the vast stores of privately held data toward the public good”, Verhulst said.

Natalia Adler, a data, research, and policy planning specialist at UNICEF and UNICEF Data Collaboratives project lead, agreed:  “At UNICEF, we’re dealing with complex problems affecting children. Data collaboratives offer an exciting opportunity to tap 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”.

In addition to the lessons provided by more than 70 examples of how corporate data was used to improve people’s lives, DataCollaboratives.org provides guidance for designing and implementing a data collaborative, including steps to take to avoid the risks that data sharing can entail.

The launch of DataCollaboratives.org washeld in concert with both the inaugural United Nations World Data Forum, in Cape Town, South Africa, where Verhulst facilitated a two-day workshop on data collaboratives, and the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, whose focus this year is on “Responsive and Responsible Leadership” and where Noveck spoke on strategies for using data for public good.