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Always look on the bright side of Data Sharing

Daphne van Hesteren

Most people will agree that data sharing can be beneficial. However, only when done properly. If you think about data sharing, especially data sharing on a large scale, some may immediately think about privacy problems and data quality issues. Many news items, reports, and opinion pieces published on the Support Centre for Data Sharing’s website discuss these topics in detail.

Yet, we must not forget that data sharing is also exciting! It inspires others to be creative and innovative using open and available data. There is an endless amount of success stories1 and use cases2 to prove that open data results in refreshing and innovative ideas. By sharing your data, you can help society to move forward in important topics such as climate change3, sustainable energy or the combat against COVID-19.

For example, during the current pandemic, a constant flow of frequently updated data was released by both public and private institutions. This gave rise to virus tracking dashboards, informative news pieces and inventive initiatives to convince people of the severity of the virus, keep them updated on the latest information and create awareness of the importance of following the implemented measures. This resulted in a massive collaboration between European citizens and a rapid decrease in the number of newly infected people.

Another example is climate change. In one of my previous pieces4 I argued that the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have some similarities and that data sharing can be beneficial here as well. Data sharing about our climate could ensure collaboration, underpin innovation and create accountability5. As a response to the increasing availability of data, the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat6 created an online platform where they monitor the progress of the promises made by The Paris Agreement7. It is colour coded for convenience, making it is easy to see the progress that is being made (or not) per topic. Initiatives like this are beneficial for both citizens as for the responsible governments and organisations. On the one hand, this initiative involves all citizens on possible future global changes and helps them understand. On the other hand, it stimulates (pushes) governments to show and share all developments made to improve our climate.

Obviously, we should not forget about privacy and other reservations involved with data sharing, but they should not be a paralysing barrier either. Instead, in order to increase data sharing and persuade the more sceptical companies and institutions, we should further highlight the benefits of data sharing – economic, societal, environmental or other – and make them as concrete as possible. This positive approach, amplified by inventive examples, can enthuse others to start sharing their data and make an impact while adhering to requirements.

How do you think we should convince companies and institutions of the potential benefit and experience that data sharing brings for themselves and for society as a whole?