Published on Digital Development

Integrated national data ecosystems: the next stage of digital transformation

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An integrated national data ecosystem supports the social contract for data An integrated national data ecosystem supports the social contract for data

Over two years of living with COVID-19 taught the world an important lesson: Establishing a system for effectively managing data resources is a fundamental first step in providing a sustainable, secure, and prosperous future.  The traditional approach to data management is no longer adequate—data must be shared and used across disciplines, sectors, and platforms if we are to transition to a truly digital society that contributes to economic growth and prosperity. 

Governments and businesses are already adapting to this new reality. But it won’t be easy. It will require retrofitting existing systems and developing data-driven solutions for sustainable and equitable socio-economic growth. What, then, can policymakers do to accelerate the process?

The Bank’s 2021 World Development Report, Data for Better Lives, provides a roadmap. It calls for a new social contract for data founded on value, trust, and equity. It argues that data governance is key to realizing the value of data through the trustworthy and equitable production, use, and reuse of data. The report sets out a vision for an integrated national data system to support such a contract, built on the four pillars of a data governance framework: infrastructure, laws, economic policies, and institutions, as well as the cross-cutting element of human capital.

Delivering on this vision requires a strategy, policies, political commitment, technical expertise, and resources. It means building an integrated national data ecosystem consisting of people, data-centric platforms, processes, and technologies to support those areas of economic activity crucial for a country’s sovereignty, prosperity, and global competitiveness. 

An integrated national data ecosystem supports the social contract for data by allowing trustworthy data sharing and the use (and reuse) of a country’s data resources at the national, sub-national, or sectoral levels. In such an ecosystem, the value of data is maximized through data-driven digital products and services that are equally accessible to all citizens, businesses, and administrations.  This approach delivers digital dividends and addresses the digital divide, ensuring business and government services continuity and empowering civil society.

Social contract for data
Source: Authors

An integrated national data ecosystem:

  • provides unified, transparent, and secure access to trustworthy, high-quality data, including administrative, statistical, business, industrial, scientific and real-time, machine-generated data;
  • consists of a set of interconnected, sector-specific trusted data platforms which are interoperable and where (a) personal and non-personal data are secure, (b) stakeholders can freely exchange data subject to rules that guarantee data privacy, (c) users have fast, reliable access to relevant information and services based on international and national data standards, and (d) interoperability frameworks are in place;
  • is implemented with reliable digital infrastructure, including data stacks, ethical, analytical tools (artificial intelligence and machine learning), enhanced cybersecurity, and pooled, distributed infrastructure (for example, cloud, edge, the Internet of Things, and networks) for managing and processing data to create value;
  • is underpinned by laws and regulations to establish trust and safeguard users’ rights, facilitated by economic policies to support innovation, and overseen by inclusive governance institutions, which are essential to ensure the quality, accessibility, protection, availability, reusability, and preservation of the country’s unstructured and structured data and associated metadata;
  • is supported by human capital policies to enhance evidence-based policymaking and the use of data in the public sector and to increase digital skills, cybersecurity awareness, and data literacy for all citizens.

A data ecosystem requires a holistic delivery model that considers human, social, organizational, and technical factors with stakeholders from the public and private sectors and academia and with multidisciplinary development teams of software engineers, data scientists, lawyers, and social scientists. It should identify innovative answers to the following fundamental questions: 

  • How does a country extract value from data?
  •  How does a country ensure trust in its data?
  • What resilient data infrastructure does a country need to manage data securely?
  • What skills do a country’s citizens and businesses need to benefit from data?
  • What data governance structures are necessary to oversee and share data? 

Policymakers can focus on putting the necessary data governance in place to develop trusted data platforms, unleash the potential of a country’s data resources, and identify new data-driven solutions to a country’s political challenges.  At the same time, it’s important to gain buy-in from stakeholders, particularly the general public.

When a country establishes an integrated national data ecosystem, it sends several powerful messages.  First, policymakers are preparing for a future where data is recognized as a public good. Second, the country is serious about protecting citizens’ digital rights. Finally, it maximizes the potential of data to deliver green, digital transitions, which is crucial for creating a secure, sustainable, and prosperous future.

Related posts: 
Evolution in the data ecosystem—an idea that’s got legs 
Investing in data and innovation ecosystem to transform Indonesia’s agriculture 
Connecting developing countries to the cloud: Critical debates in data infrastructure 
Setting up ‘data spaces’ to boost competitiveness and innovation in the manufacturing sector – a Turkey case study 


Declan Deasy

Senior Digital Strategy Advisor

Yaroslav Eferin

Digital Development Consultant

Oleg Petrov

Senior Digital Development Specialist, World Bank

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