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Background

Data – unanalyzed figures or facts that can be encoded as zeros and ones – powers almost everything humans do. Individuals and institutions alike rely on data to create new products and services, solve complex problems, and measure performance. But data is different from other inputs because it is simultaneously plentiful, precious, and vulnerable to theft and manipulation. Moreover, many nations divide data into categories for governance and have specific rules for personal, proprietary, and public data. Thus, data is not easy to govern.

 

The Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub seeks to help policymakers and the public understand how governments around the world are governing data. For many governments, governing various types of data has become an essential, albeit challenging, task, because government officials must justify and launch new strategies, structures, policies, and processes. In 2021 researchers at the Hub designed a new evidence-based metric to characterize a comprehensive approach to data governance at both the national and international levels. We hoped that by doing so, we could help create a broader understanding of data governance.

The World Bank defines data governance as "creating an environment of...norms, infrastructure policies and technical mechanisms, laws and regulations for data, related economic policies, and institutions that can effectively enable the safe, trustworthy use" of various types of data. "A robust and effectively implemented data governance framework can strengthen trust in the data system, thereby incentivizing the use of data-driven products and services, increasing their value, and ensuring a more equitable distribution of benefits. In effect, data governance enforces the social contract around data, by applying the principles of trust, value, and equity." A comprehensive approach includes strategies, policies, processes, and organizational structure. A comprehensive approach also governs different types of data use and re-use.

 

The Hub’s metric includes 6 attributes of data governance (strategies; laws and regulations; structural changes; human rights and ethical guidelines; involving their public; and mechanisms for international cooperation). We then used the metric to assess 68 countries plus the European Union. We selected nations from different regions of the world, varied levels of digital prowess, and different levels of income. After examining evidence for each indicator, we graded each nation on its performance. The map below indicates total scores for each of the 68 nations and the European Union.

Global data governance map

* We define comprehensive data governance as a systemic and flexible approach to governing different types of data use and re-use. We believe that policymakers are constantly working towards an approach that can simultaneously empower individuals, groups, and firms; protect individuals from harm; meet changing societal and technological conditions; and plan for and grapple with the side effects of data-driven change.

 

* We encourage readers to compare countries, but we do not intend the scoring to be used as a ranking of data governance quality or effectiveness.


* Colors represent countries' overall score on the DataGovHub Metric.

Not Included
0 -19
20 - 39
40 - 59
60 - 79
80 - 100
Six Attributes of

Data Governance

The government has a vision or plan for different types of data in the economy and polity.
The government constructs a legal regime around data’s types and/or uses.
The government thinks about the ethical, trust, and human rights implications of data use and re-use.
The government alters institutional structures in response to data-driven transformation.
The government informs its constituents about its activities and asks for public comment, with the intention of incorporating their feedback.
 
The government joins with other nations in shared international efforts to establish data governance rules and norms.

What Our Data Reveals

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The UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and France take the most comprehensive approach to data governance at the national and international levels. This finding is consistent with our first iteration, where these countries were also in the top five.

(See chart 1)

Chart 1 below shows how each case study nation has performed on the 2nd iteration of the metric. The UK has retained its top position, which means that, more so than other countries, it has taken steps to comprehensively govern data. However, we believe there is little difference statistically among the top performing nations which include the UK, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and France. We note that several nations in Latin America perform well, including Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia. 

Taking our attributes in sum, wealthy nations do more to govern data. But that is not the only difference. In general, less wealthy nations focus their data governance efforts on structural or regulatory actions to govern data rather than develop strategies or put forward human rights/ethical guidelines.

(See Chart 2 and 3)

Chart 2 below shows the average attribute score for the countries in our set from each of the World Bank income groups. As with our findings from last year, on average, countries with high incomes do more on each attribute than less wealthy nations. Developing countries are incentivized to focus more on other aspects of development such as poverty reduction and job creation. In particular we noted that lower income countries are less likely to focus on ethical or human rights guidelines related to data or data driven technologies. In fact, as in 2021, we find that only high income countries focus on ethical and human rights guidelines.

Chart 3 compares the average attribute score for our sample of 68 countries and the EU that are OECD members with those that are not members of the OECD. In general, members of the OECD are high income countries, with the exception of four in our sample–Colombia, Mexico, Turkey and Costa Rica. These four countries are upper middle income countries according to the World Bank. The OECD countries scored significantly higher than non-OECD countries across all attributes.

Most of our case studies have enacted or created a freedom of information law, an open data portal, a public data protection law, and a public consultation framework on data. 

(See Chart 4)

Chart 4 below illuminates which indicators are the most prevalent among our sample nations. Over 75% of our countries have Freedom of Information Acts, open data portals and personal data protection laws. In contrast, fewer than 25% have a data strategy or data charter.

We noted an increase in the number of nations adhering to a trade agreement with the free flow of data (with exceptions) as the default.

Most nations have created advisory committees to govern data and data driven technologies, but these committees are mainly composed of representatives of business, government, and academia rather than representatives of the broad public. By including such representatives, policymakers may be better able to anticipate and understand data driven issues that could affect public trust.

Although most countries seek public comment on proposed laws and regulations related to data, we have little evidence that policymakers revise their data governance policies in response to public concerns. The Hub will provide additional detail in an upcoming report.