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Unlocking data – responsibly – can bring enormous benefits to individuals, communities, and the planet.

With digital transformation accelerating across the world, data is everywhere. From agriculture, to education, to climate, data fuels our work across a variety of sectors. And for individuals, personal data-sharing can have a range of benefits – from faster public service delivery to individualized healthcare. At its core, data is information, meaning it can foster knowledge and understanding – if we successfully unlock its potential.  

In the coming years, the amount of data we generate will continue to grow – exponentially. By 2025, it is estimated the world will produce up to 175 zettabytes of data, almost tripling the amount – 59ZB – generated in 2020. With these numbers – and the opportunities – in mind, we must must prioritize comprehensive, unbiased data that is representative of and relevant to people across the world. And, just as importantly, we must ensure this data can be accessed, shared, and governed to benefit individuals and communities. 

From Asia to South America, we’re already witnessing the ways in which data infrastructure can positively impact people across the world.

By prioritizing thoughtful digital transformation, governments can harness the power of data to promote tools and services that make life easier – and better – for local communities. In Singapore, for example, the national financial data exchange system (SGFinDex) allows residents to use a digital ID to share information across both the public and private sectors. By requiring online consent forms, the system ensures that users’ financial data is secure and confidential.

In Uruguay, a collaboration between civil society and the ministry of health has resulted in A Tu Servicio, a platform for accessing and analyzing open-government health data. This tool has proven widely beneficial, as it allows users to compare a variety of different healthcare providers based on factors like specialty, wait times, and price. And, in Estonia, well-functioning digital public infrastructure (DPI) has allowed for data exchange capabilities that have drastically improved daily life for the country’s 1.3 million inhabitants. The country’s X-Road system saves Estonians an estimated 3 million working hours each year through the digitalization of 99% of public services.

Open data ecosystems, which are built with open-source software and open standards, present enormous opportunities. When created within the framework of trusted digital public infrastructure, they can spur economic growth, fuel local job creation, and deliver data-driven services that improve lives. This is why countries across the world should prioritize safe and efficient data infrastructure, within – but especially across – sectors, including climate, health, and education. 

Fostering open data ecosystems is essential for the good of people globally. So is doing it right.  

Data is an undeniably powerful tool that can be used for good. Yet, it could just as easily be misused – intentionally or unintentionally – to cause harm.  This is why good design, governance, and safeguards are critical to fostering a safe and trusted data ecosystem. Together, these components put data back into the hands of the people, while simultaneously protecting them from bad actors, corrupt governments, or commercial self-interest.  

This is a much-needed shift. In our current model, a limited number of actors – primarily large tech companies and national governments – are able to access and leverage these datasets. Rather than being used for healthcare, education, or climate solutions, large data is most frequently reserved for commercial and business purposes. As a result, people reap little benefit from the information they generate, in a phenomenon known as the data divide.  

Though prevalent across the globe, the data divide is particularly concerning for those living in middle- and low- income countries. Oftentimes, these regions lack the capabilities needed to store, analyze, and use data effectively. As we evolve into an information-driven economy – and society – data infrastructure will become even more crucial to lessening these global inequalities.  

With such an important opportunity, we encourage the global community to come together in this quest for effective data infrastructure.  

Considering the significant opportunities – and potential risks – that data presents, it is essential that data infrastructure be implemented using a people-centered approach. For open-data ecosystems to be truly beneficial, people must be able to trust that their information is safe from harm and within their control to share – or not – as they please. When combined with thoughtful governance, policies, and safeguarding tools, unlocking data can result in truly life changing opportunities. 

 At the Digital Impact Alliance, we believe in a world where the power of data can be used to benefit people across the world. This is why we encourage governments and development actors to prioritize investments into trusted data-sharing measures- alongside effective safeguards. Through these efforts, we hope to both unlock existing data and foster the creation of new datasets that can be used for the good of people, society, and the planet.

To make this vision a reality, we promote:

Good digital public infrastructure that enables a positive, sustainable, and equitable digital future.

Data and digital technology that contributes to climate solutions through adaptation, mitigation, and response measures.