Academies call for a sustainable European data governance approach

The ALLEA/Royal Society Discussion Paper ‘Flourishing in a data-enabled society’ examines how a European approach to data governance can unlock the full potential of data-based technologies, while at the same time safeguarding European values.

ALLEA and the Royal Society, the national academy of sciences in the UK, jointly published a Discussion Paper on ‘Flourishing in a data-enabled society. Based on the outcomes of discussions during an ALLEA/Royal Society conference in November 2018 in Chicheley, UK, the paper is intended to inform researchers, policymakers and wider audiences alike, and calls for a coordinated approach across disciplines and sectors to ensure data and digital technologies support human flourishing – or in other words to ensure data serves humanity.

The publication provides a concise overview on the impact of digital transformations and how increased data collection and use is transforming individual lives, modern societies and markets. These transformations involve trade-offs and in particular they put under tension values shared across Europe, such as privacy, autonomy, rationality, equality, and dignity. Despite these unsolved conflicts and ongoing uncertainty around the direction of these transformations, the paper emphasises that opportunities for human flourishing through the use of data are manifold, such as in healthcare, public service provision, or sustainable development.

The paper calls for establishing an inclusive, transparent and sustainable data ecosystem which respects the basic values of our societies, and is essential to underpin trust. According to the paper, such data-enabled innovation needs “a system-wide approach to be most effective”, which should include sound regulation, technology assessment as well as responsible innovation, and meaningful public engagement.

The paper concludes that such a concerted European approach should consider in particular the following objectives:

  • Putting societal values at the heart of data use.
  • Establishing good data governance and regulation.
  • Understanding opportunities for Europe.

Ongoing activities on data governance

The discussion paper reflects the conclusions of a conference held by the Royal Society and ALLEA and is the first step in an ongoing collaboration on the topic. Following up on this groundwork, it is envisaged to present the topic in a scoping paper to the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) via SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) in order to produce a comprehensive evidence review report to inform future European data governance policies, drawing on the expertise of European academies.