An enormous amount of data useful for policymakers is held by private companies. Such data hold the potential to inform decision making that improves lives but is rarely accessed or used by governments.
The major obstacles to unlocking privately-held data for public good include political, economic, ethical, legal, and technological barriers in both public and private sectors. Yet understanding these barriers has yet to translate into an established and reliable system or set of mechanisms and tools for facilitating rapid, frictionless, and trusted public-private data sharing at scale.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised the stakes around these issues, and—in response—the Global Partnership convened a virtual learning series in 2020 to advance existing operational models for accessing privately-held data, uncover mechanisms currently relied upon, and explore best practices. These learning sessions, which included representatives from 23 organizations and 10 countries, marked the start of our ongoing efforts to advance data sharing between public and private sector agencies with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
This learning series on the barriers to sustained data sharing between governments and private companies highlighted that:
- capacity gaps present barriers to successful partnerships, but capacity gaps and especially gaps related to governance capacity on the public sector side are doing more to hold back progress;
- there is a lack of support for countries navigating governance dimensions and setting up the processes and protocols that ensure safe and responsible data access, management, and use;
- finding sustainable business and operational models for private-public partnerships remains one of the biggest obstacles to continued access to data, despite years of pilots and pioneering efforts.
Building on these lessons, this ongoing project aims to improve public access to and use of privately-held data by increasing governance skills and understanding and to foster discussions around successful business and operational models to ensure the sustainability of partnerships.
Focusing on two countries (Botswana and Uruguay), in 2021, the Global Partnership successfully facilitated peer exchanges and business project mapping. We also launched a blog series focused on public-private data sharing in parallel with the ongoing Data Values Project to explore innovative ways of conceiving sustainability within public-private partnerships.
Ongoing work in this area in Botswana and Uruguay includes organizing dynamic on-the-ground training, peer exchanges, and a conference as well as developing a final knowledge product with lessons developed through this years-long effort to improve data sharing and use between companies and the public sector.