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Data governance speaks to who has authority and control over data and how that data may be used, but the term means different things to people and is far from straightforward in practice. As one participant in an initial conversation in a series of regional dialogues explained, “the question is how to embed democracy” in data governance. 

Statistical offices in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are increasingly confronting the need to establish data governance frameworks amidst rapid technological change, emerging data demands, and heightened concerns around privacy. Officials across the region are seeking to find their place in a widening ecosystem of data demand, production, and use. 

Sharing knowledge and ideas among data producers and users is the first step to navigating fast-evolving data ecosystems and reconsidering remits, practices, and responsibilities. Strengthening regional collaboration is critical to building clarity around data governance and addressing the complexity and urgency of these issues.  

In November, leaders from the statistical offices of Colombia and the Dominican Republic, civil society organizations, and research institutions exchanged perspectives on data governance during a side event of the Eleventh Statistical Conference of the Americas. Their discussion surfaced some of the key challenges and recommendations that will help guide further conversations among regional leaders. 

Outdated laws, low levels of trust, and limited resources

Out-of-date and weak legal mandates hinder statistical offices’ ability to advance data governance. Statistical legislation often dates back years and is out of step with the latest technological developments and the emerging data economy. These types of laws limit national statistical offices’ ability to be at the forefront of data governance and coordinate across the data ecosystem. In cases where it is not possible to change the legal framework in the near term, statistical offices are taking steps to align with national strategies and make data governance more central within these strategies. 

The lack of strong legal frameworks to promote statistical offices’ technical independence has implications for the perceived trustworthiness of official statistics. The absence of a clear mandate, scope, and limitations for statistical offices as the stewards of national statistical systems has made it difficult to build trust among the new users and members of the data ecosystem. Participants highlighted that promoting a culture of efficiency and innovation within statistical offices can help to bolster trust in the institution.

Participants from national statistical offices also explained that they face an increasing imbalance between demands and resources. Statistical offices' institutional capacities and resources are rarely keeping pace with increasing expectations and demands of new data producers and users and rapidly evolving discussions around data governance. 

The way forward

Data producers need to ensure that data represents the interests of data subjects - the people providing data. “Our role is to ground data governance frameworks in reality with a bottom-up approach,” Julia Zulver of Ladysmith explained. 

Participants pointed to promising developments and approaches to shared challenges, emphasizing the importance of localizing norms and frameworks, enhancing transparency, and fostering collaboration. The following ideas emerged from the discussion:

1. Data privacy must be tailored to meet local needs and political contexts.

Privacy concerns and individuals’ expectations about how governments will use their data vary across countries. For example, tax declarations of all individuals are publicly-available records in Nordic countries, but this is not the norm in LAC. The specific privacy context and the preferences of individuals towards their data require tailored approaches and solutions.  

Fabrizio Scrollini, Executive Director of La Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos (ILDA), emphasized at the event that we must go beyond considering privacy at the individual level to recognize this as a community issue and a collective phenomenon. This is especially important when considering historically marginalized groups and the potential risks of further discrimination through data practices.

2. Promoting transparency and inclusive data governance systems builds public trust and credibility.

Patricio del Boca, Senior Software Developer at the Open Knowledge Foundation, highlighted that statical offices should improve transparency on data, methodologies, and processes to foster greater use of data and strengthen citizens’ trust in governments to collect, access, and use their information. Without transparency in both the data itself and the processes of data collection and analysis, he explained, a lack of credibility prevents data use.

National statistics offices can also increase trust by adopting reciprocal data governance models, instead of extractive ones. Reciprocal models involve collecting data from various sources (public and private) while also giving back to those data providers. This approach has helped ONE in the Dominican Republic gain access to meteorological and water data. In exchange, ONE is strengthening the data skills of the data producers and helping them reorganize and update their data collection processes and databases. 

3. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is critical to realizing equity and inclusion through data governance.

In working with women in vulnerable situations, Ladysmith Senior Researcher Julia Zulver acknowledged that data collection can expose people to harm. To protect data subjects, she explained that it is important to avoid collecting data for the sake of data itself. Instead, data collection should have a specific purpose and be tied to concerns and changes that affected communities wish to address. This aim requires researchers to co-design programs and work closely with grassroots organizations to ensure that data addresses the needs of communities and is used to amplify the voices of people who are data subjects.

Juan Daniel Oviedo, Director General of Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), explained that DANE has a legal and constitutional mandate to improve the visibility of minorities in statistical production and has worked closely with sectoral ministries to achieve this. This requires considering not only how statistical offices respond to new mandates but also how other actors in the national statistical system are engaged. 

The aim of data governance must speak to the specific needs of people at the heart of data and provide a framework for protecting and sharing data for public good. As Patricio del Boca from Open Knowledge Foundation explained, working together to create data ecosystems and governance frameworks helps improve the quality of and access to data for public good.

Sustaining regional collaboration

International and regional dialogue and collaboration are critical as national statistical offices progress into a new realm of shaping data governance frameworks, while maintaining confidentiality, privacy, and data quality. 

Over the coming months, DANE and the Global Partnership will continue exploring data governance and related issues with actors across LAC through a series of activities, including:

  • Creating opportunities for LAC leadership, consultation, and engagement in the Data Values Project, a policy consultation and advocacy campaign that aims to unlock the value of data for all.
  • Reinvigorating partnerships between cities, local organizations, and national-level actors to jointly assess and rethink how data governance can enable policy solutions.
  • Delving into new frameworks, concepts, and experiences through a new working group on data stewardship under the Statistical Conference of the Americas - United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and strengthening knowledge exchange with the UN Data Stewardship Working Group, under the joint leadership of DANE and Statistics Poland.
  • Fostering regional and South-to-South knowledge exchanges on inclusive, intersectional, and participatory data practices through the Inclusive Data Charter.

We look forward to collaborating with a breadth of organizations across the region and welcome ideas and feedback. Get in touch at datavalues@data4sdgs.org.


Camilo Mendez and Daniel Peñaranda from Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) and Jenna Slotin and Fredy Rodriguez from the Global Partnership contributed to this blog post.

Notes: Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) and the Global Partnership are bringing together statisticians, researchers, and activists across Latin America and the Caribbean to explore the norms that should guide data governance and the role of national statistics offices. This regional dialogue will feed into a global policy and advocacy process – the Data Values Project