Data Policy Evening: The Value of Data

Valuing Data is Difficult

Valuing data is difficult, and vitally important. The Value of Data, a recent report by the ODI, Bennett Institute and Nuffield Foundation, makes a significant step forward in the debate. While most people agree that data is valuable and that sharing data unlocks that value, there is considerable debate on how to share data safely, spread the benefits fairly and ensure that social, not just economic, benefits are realized.

Valuing data properly underpins fairness in sharing and using that data. For example, if we can’t value data, how can we judge whether we’re getting a fair exchange of value when we share it? Or effectively regulate and tax companies whose data is an important asset? We explored some of these themes last March, looking at NHS data specifically. Our next event will look more broadly at the challenges around valuing data, the different lenses that can be used to understand its value and lessons for policymakers and others interested in this topic. We’re delighted that Jeni Tennison of the ODI will share her reflections.

Jeni Tennison - Vice President, ODI

Jeni Tennison is Vice President and Chief Strategy Adviser at the Open Data Institute. She gained a PhD in AI from the University of Nottingham, then worked as an independent consultant, specialising in open data publishing and consumption, before joining the ODI as Technical Director in 2012, becoming CEO in 2016, and Vice President in 2020.

Asking the right question

There have been a number of attempts to define the value of data. Some take an accounting approach, treating data in the same way as other intangible assets. HM Treasury looked at the five biggest companies by market value (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook), worth a combined £3.5 trillion. Of that, around £172 billion (or 5%) is reported as tangible assets (land, buildings, equipment, etc). The rest is intangible, including data. Similarly, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) regulations will require that organisations estimate the value of data if they want to charge consumers who opt out of the sale of their personal data. The CCPA includes eight attributes to consider when valuing data, mostly relating to revenue, profit and expenses.

Others, including the OECD, take a broader view of the economic value of data. This is the ability to use data to boost productivity and create new or improve products and services. Valuation in this context focuses on quantifying those benefits as a proportion of GDP. A 2019 OECD report estimated that data sharing could generate benefits of between 1% and 2.5% of GDP.

The co-authors of the Value of Data report, take a broader approach still. They define value in terms of the wellbeing of society. In their words: “value arises from data when businesses create jobs or become more productive; when governments deliver more effective public services; when our environment is clean and diverse; and when people live happier and healthier lives”.

Taking a broader view of value means looking at the impact of data when it is used and shared rather than trying to value the data itself. It also encourages us to focus on enabling sharing and use as a means to unlock value. The Value of Data report identifies technology, licensing, legal and ethical governance and cost as barriers to sharing which will need to be addressed.

Legal and ethical considerations magnified when data is personal

Those legal and ethical issues are particularly important when the data in question is personal data. Processing personal data carries particular costs (e.g. cost of compliance with the data protection regime) and risks (e.g. risk of privacy harms). But personal data also carries a significant potential benefit. Reform identified a “moral duty” to use NHS data, including personal data about patients, for the good of patients, the NHS and wider society.

Calls for more data sharing invite familiar questions about the interaction between sharing and using personal data and the data protection regime. We believe that it is possible to generate value from personal data by processing and sharing it with appropriate controls in place.

The Value of Data report, and other work by the ODI, explores some of the legal and technical mechanisms that could allow controls to be applied. Data trusts and personal data stores are both examples of initiatives intended to allow an individual to retain a measure of control over data about them or that they have an interest in. Controls can also be applied to data itself. Aggregation can allow for insights about a group without revealing individual preferences. Pseudonymisation can limit the privacy impact when sharing row level data and retain high levels of utility, depending on the use case.

We’re delighted to welcome Jeni Tennison, the ODI’S Vice President, to discuss these and other issues raised in the report. Jeni gained a PhD in AI from the University of Nottingham, then worked as an independent consultant, specialising in open data publishing and consumption, before joining the ODI as Technical Director in 2012, becoming CEO in 2016, and Vice President in 2020. She also sits on the Advisory Board for the Open Contracting Partnership; the Board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; the UK’s Health Tech Advisory Board; and advises the Board of OpenUK.

What’s the plan?

In light of advice that we should stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus, we will run this DPN event via videoconferencing. We’ll provide details to registered participants in advance.

You’ll see that the RSVP process has changed. We are offering a wine and cheese delivery option so that you don’t miss out on a drink and snacks. There are new fields on the RSVP form for your preferred delivery (wine & cheese, just cheese) and your address. You’ll need to RSVP before 5 May so that our supplier has plenty of time to process and post the orders.

We will combine reflections from our speaker with a guided discussion and opportunities for networking. Our video conference will allow for virtual breakout rooms.

  • 17:25: Join the call, sound and video check
  • 17:30: Welcome from Guy and Marcus
  • 17.45: Reflections from Jeni Tennison
  • 18.15: Discussion in breakout groups (3 x 15 minute breakout groups)
  • 19:30: Feedback from breakout groups

We deliberately keep the event small to enable in depth discussions. If you know someone who would be particularly interested in the topic, please let us know and we’d be happy to invite them.

Ready to learn more?

Our team of data privacy experts are here to answer your questions and discuss how data privacy can fuel your business.