Using data more effectively is central to answering many of today’s most pressing questions: How do we fight the COVID-19 crisis more effectively? How do we design better policies to mitigate the adverse effects of the climate crisis? How can we create more inclusive societies? Providing better insights to questions like these requires a more comprehensive approach towards data policies. This is one of the reasons why the World Development Report (WDR) 2021 calls for integrated national data systems that are based on national data strategies.
As one example of this, the Federal Government of Germany has developed their national Data Strategy around the objective of advancing sustainable growth. This strategy cuts across major economic sectors and spans multiple stages of the data value chain. Its main goal is to advance sustainable, economic growth and facilitate economic and social innovation. To achieve these goals, the strategy harmonizes tech innovation, data protection and cybersecurity. It is Germany’s contribution to the European vision of its future data society.
The Data Strategy has four main fields of action: (1) performant data infrastructures; (2) innovative and trustworthy data usage; (3) improvement of data competencies and data culture; and (4) the state as driver of progress. These political goals are underpinned by an in-depth review of foundations. The review creates the ‘big picture’ of a data society, including and connecting infrastructures as base for thriving data ecosystems with competent stakeholders, where the rules of the game are set by conducive regulatory frameworks. The state flanks these fields as driver and enabler.
In each individual area, the Data Strategy focuses on the status quo (i.e., existing infrastructures) and develops a vision of where to go. The strategy lists more than 230 measures that further these goals. Every country will need to develop their own national strategies and the Data Strategy of Germany could serve as a blueprint in this respect.
The Data Strategy is based on several inputs, which were consolidated and bound together. In 2020, a public consultation took place, during which more than 1,200 participants answered a questionnaire concerning infrastructures, competencies, ecosystems, governance, and the state as driver related to data. Several expert councils issued expertise (such as the Council for Information Infrastructures, the Digital Council, the Data Ethics Commission, and the Competition Law 4.0 Commission).
The Data Strategy consolidates and advances infrastructure projects such as the National Research Data Infrastructure (Nationale Forschungsdateninfrastruktur, NFDI) as well as GAIA-X (a project to develop a secure and trustworthy federation of cloud service providers and data infrastructure throughout Europe). These projects are complementary. The NFDI promises to make research data more accessible, and GAIA-X has the goal to create scalable, federated sovereign cloud-and-edge infrastructures and services. In addition, the strategy also promotes High-Performance Computing and Quantum-Computing with support programs. It is intended to induce new business models and experimental cooperation between industry and research. Trustworthy infrastructures are the backbone for thriving data ecosystems, but a conducive regulatory environment is also imminent.
Regulatory environments need to manage subtle trade-offs wisely: while competition in digital markets tilt these into strong asymmetries of market shares, incentives to innovate must be preserved in such environments. Also, while personalization improves goods and services for many consumers – consumers at the same time shun intrusion into their privacy.
The Data Strategy connects new regulatory activities (such as the Data Governance Act and the Digital Services Act) with implementing existing regulations (i.e., the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR) more effectively. The latter can be achieved, for example, through appointment of a leading data protection authority in health research projects spanning several federal states in Germany. Another measure is improved knowledge sharing of ‘state of the art’ privacy tech and de-personalization of data. This is achieved through a unique “Anonymization Network” of researchers, interested in optimizing the data utility/privacy trade-off. Essentially, the network could create open-source code and libraries that may be used by different stakeholders for processing data.
Stylized example of Germany’s data ecosystem
Based on this structure, the Data Strategy envisions a thriving ecosystem of new cooperation forms. These may develop through data trusts, Research Data Centers, universities and industry participants. These players will organize around different trustworthy data spaces for health, the environment or mobility, for example.
Across different population segments, citizens must be enabled to better take part in the data economy. The same is also needed for companies, from small to large. And even at research institutions, skilled personnel are needed. Through new training programs, digital platforms and even apps, the Data Strategy fosters the skills needed for data-driven work.
Finally, the state can establish a leading role by pushing open government data. For this matter, a separate Open Data Strategy is designed. In the future, German Ministries will appoint Open Data Coordinators and Chief Data Scientists (or a comparable role) to support internal data laboratories and change their culture towards working with and sharing of data.
As a multi-year strategy, the Data Strategy will be regularly updated and improved in the future. Countries that intend to develop strategies related to data or digitalization may well use Germany’s Data Strategy as blueprint.