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  • Writer's pictureRatnesh Mittal

Democratisation of Data

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

‘Data is the new oil’, said a wise, rich man.

We all use data to make decisions, sometimes more, other times less. More that decisions are based on data, better the outcomes, in general. But not everyone has an equal access to data. Even fewer have access to analysis for making decisions.

Governments have access to more data than they can make sense of and often they do use it for shaping public policy. Large corporations, specially internet native tech giants, have business models premised on exclusive access to information of unimaginable proportions.

The battle of data laws has mostly centred around privacy and ownership rights with a lot of debate about ‘consent’.

But if data is the new oil, then how can we get it to lubricate our lives and not be a privilege of the powerful few?

How accessible is data in a useable form to the average citizen or business? How does a newly wed couple decide which city to settle down in? How does a group of volunteers decide on their next initiative? When you start a new business, do you have easy access to rich data that can help you create a demand forecast and model price elasticity before you burn sweat and equity?

Reality is, we take most of our decisions based on gut feel or on anecdotal evidence. Many of these decisions are life impacting. A wrong career choice, a wrong product-market mix, a wrong choice of technology or a wrong personal investment can be devastating. There was no other alternative in the past, but why should this be the case when we collectively contribute everything there is in the new oil?

Imagine all data generated electronically as a social good accessible freely, equally and easily by all individuals, firms, corporations, local bodies, institutions and governments with no one owning it.

Why not Democratise data?

In doing so, we will build a data driven society. One where every citizen is encouraged to make better informed decisions. Over a few generations, such a society will be far better off than it would be by locking up data for use by a privileged few.

Policy makers have a huge role to play, of course. Governments need to create the norm by making all their data public along with analytical capabilities.

Why will private corporations spend billions in collecting and storing data if it ultimately has to be shared for free? This needs a technological, moral and economic reasoning. They might, if they gained more by contributing to the public sphere than by being exclusivist just like many open softwares systems.

Building a community pool of data should be a social/national/global project to which everyone contributes just as we all do to global warming. There could be a narrowly defined list of ‘secrets’ which no one is obliged to share such as one’s latest crush or the formula of Coca Cola. Everything else is like our foot prints on sand. We can’t claim to own the footprint, only the foot!

What do think? What initiatives to democratize data are you aware of? I would love to know.

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