Access to and sharing of data are increasingly critical for fostering data-driven scientific discovery and innovations across the private and public sectors globally and will play a role in solving societal challenges, including fighting COVID-19 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But restrictions to data access, sometimes compounded by a reluctance to share, and a growing awareness of the risks that come with data access and sharing, means economies and societies are not harnessing the full potential of data.
Adopted in October 2021, the OECD Recommendation on Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data (EASD) is the first internationally agreed upon set of principles and policy guidance on how governments can maximise the cross-sectoral benefits of all types of data – personal, non-personal, open, proprietary, public and private – while protecting the rights of individuals and organisations.
The Recommendation intends to help governments develop coherent data governance policies and frameworks to unlock the potential benefits of data across and within sectors, countries, organisations, and communities. It aims to reinforce trust across the data ecosystem, stimulate investment in data and incentivise data access and sharing, and foster effective and responsible data access, sharing and use across sectors and jurisdictions.
The Recommendation is a key deliverable of phase 3 of the OECD’s Going Digital project, focused on data governance for growth and well-being. It was developed by three OECD Committees (Digital Economy Policy, Scientific and Technological Policy, and Public Governance) and acts as a common reference for existing and new OECD legal instruments related to data in areas such as research, health and digital government. It will provide a foundation stone for ongoing OECD work to help countries unlock the potential of data in the digital era.
With the growing importance of data for the digital transformation and for data-driven innovation, enhancing access to and sharing of data (EASD) has become critical. Today, data access and sharing, for instance, are needed to enhance public service delivery and to identify emerging governmental and societal needs. In science, data access and sharing provide a range of benefits for researchers by enabling open science. With the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to and sharing of data will further increase in importance, even in traditionally less data-intensive fields such as manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. This development has been key for enabling the next production revolution (NPR). Furthermore, access to and sharing of health data are necessary to improve the quality, safety and patient-centeredness of health care services, to support scientific innovation, to enable the discovery and evaluation of new treatments and to redesign and evaluate new models of health service delivery.
Despite the growing need for access to data and evidence of the economic and social benefits, data access and sharing remains below its potential. Individuals, businesses, and governments often face barriers to data access, which may be compounded by reluctance to share, including within organisations and across sectors. Stakeholders face several risks when sharing data, such as the risks of digital security and privacy breaches and the violation of other legitimate private interests such as the protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs).
To address these challenges, some governments and private sector actors have established a wide variety of initiatives, but efforts have been uneven across sectors and countries. In particular, OECD’s work revealed an insufficient level of coherence and interoperability between data governance frameworks across sectors and jurisdictions, which could result in barriers to cross-sectoral and cross-border data access and sharing.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic particularly underlined the need for cross-sectoral re-use of data and thus for more coherence across sector specific data governance frameworks. For example, anonymised mobile call data records (CDRs) of telecommunications services providers have been re-used to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19 and other pandemics. Policies that enhance access to and sharing of data are thus important in helping accelerate the fight against pandemics and other emergencies. While global sharing of data has spurred collaboration and boosted discovery during the ongoing pandemic, challenges remain. Trust in at least some of the data is relatively low, and outstanding issues include the lack of specific standards, co-ordination and interoperability, as well as poor data quality and analysis capacity.
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The OECD through its Committee on Digital Economy Policy (CDEP), and its Working Party on Data Governance and Privacy in the Digital Economy (DGP), has undertaken extensive analysis to assess to what extent EASD can maximise the social and economic value of data. The November 2019 report "Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data: Reconciling Risks and Benefits for Data Re-use across Societies" identifies best practices to balance different interests in a way that ensures that the benefits of data access and sharing are reaped, while the associated risks are managed and reduced to a socially acceptable level.
Complementary work was undertaken by the Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy (CSTP) on Enhanced Access to Public Data for Science, Technology and Innovation in the context of the revision the OECD (2006, updated in 2021) Recommendation of the Council concerning Access to Research Data from Public Funding, and by the Public Governance Committee (PGC) and its Working Party of Senior Digital Government Officials (E-Leaders) on the Open Government Data Report: Enhancing Policy Maturity for Sustainable Impact and the Good Practice Principles for Data Ethics in the Public Sector.
To guide policy making in relation to the governance of data, the OECD has developed a number of legal instruments, among which four Council Recommendations are about enhancing access to and sharing of data specifically, setting out guidance and best practices on common issues such as data openness, transparency, stakeholder engagement, intellectual property rights (IPR), and pricing. These Recommendations include: