Future Value of Data – Interim Summary

Generated on 26th June 2018

Hopes for big data relating to physical processes has brought with it expectations around solving some of society’s most intractable issues; the mass collection of ‘personal’ data has ushered in a new kind of data-specific politics as it becomes increasingly apparent that data technologies are invading the most intimate and controversial parts of our personal and social lives.

At the heart of this project is a programme of 30 workshops, held in different countries, across different continents, with 25 expert participants drawn from across the data landscape. These included relevant delegates from large multi-national companies, regional organisations, start-ups, universities, NGOs, think-tanks, government bodies and regulators, alongside data researchers, journalists and consultants, all providing representation of a wide range of different industries and sectors.

Questions that we were initially seeking to address within our workshops focus on such issues as:

  • How can we develop a shared understanding and shared language around data?
  • How can we begin to address the question of the value of data in relation to the more commonplace data questions?
    • How is data created?
    • Who owns it, and who should own it?
    • How is it stored and/or shared?
    • Who can use it? And how should it be used?
  • How do we understand positive and negative value, and how can positive value be maximised?
  • How will organisations and society address these questions?
  • Where will the balance of power over data come to rest?
  • What frameworks will emerge within which we will come to understand the value of data to economy and society?

To date, this project has included events in a number of key locations including Bengaluru, Madrid, Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai, Jakarta, Sydney, Bangkok, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Across these discussions there have been over 70 distinct insights on the question of how we will value data in the future shared, debated and refined.

Across the workshops to date, there have been several areas where there has been strong consensus of future impact. These are widely agreed as being priority issues for the next decade that will be important for any data stakeholder to address.

Data ethics – It is likely that we will see actions and consequences of, for example, machine-based decision-making before we reach a societal or intellectual consensus around ethical issues. In fact, many felt that ‘data catastrophe’ may be the ultimate driving force of change.

Data ownership – Current debates around privacy, and the unequal distribution of data-driven profits are likely to drive a narrative of protection and ownership. However, there is a growing appetite for data to be used to drive social good, and a concomitant desire among individuals to realize the wider value of their personal information. Expect a greater focus on how data is shared and accessed.

Informed consent – The practical difficulties around implementing informed consent in a meaningful way, given current data technologies, are likely to mean that something, or some things, different to informed consent but retaining its spirit and purpose, are likely to emerge.

Digital and data literacy – Holding organisations and governments to account, maintaining security and indeed full participation in a digital society, were all felt to be critically dependent on widespread digital/data literacy. Identifying the need however, is not the same as addressing it

Cyber security – Expect more collaborative approaches to building uniformly high standards of data security. This will be driven by government or regulatory incentive (such as GDPR), consumer/citizen demand, and the need to close security loopholes and weaknesses across data supply chains


In addition, some key trends brought disagreement and debate in terms of their likely importance and impact, as well as disagreement over exactly how they might play out.

Data marketplaces – There is a growing debate around what a mature and meaningful data marketplace will look like. Some suggest trading data for services is normalized, some think data marketplaces should be developed along protectionist lines. Some argued, there has to be a coherent set of data use principles and clear systems of accountability and oversight; none of which look set to emerge in the near term.

Data sovereignty – Although there is little doubt that we are going to see attempts to formulate a meaningful concept of data sovereignty, some believe that soon the very question will be obsolete thanks to factors such as the development of space as a state-less, borderless data centre, and distributed and encrypted internet technologies such as blockchain which allow for both security and a relatively free flow of data

Open data – Some see a drive towards building mechanisms that allow a greater use of ‘open data’, through global regulation, increased transparency in governance and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Others believe we may be moving from a world of relatively open data sharing to a world of more closed data practices, as individuals take control of their personal data, and governments securitise data sets

Rise of the machines – Ethical concerns around AI increase as early innovation leads to mis-steps, localised mistakes and backlash, as well as the emergence of better-practice that will better equip us for the future.

Privatisation of data – The privation of knowledge and the increased use of new “secret software” challenges the potential for data to be open source or at least shared within an agreed governance system.  


During discussions, the team also identified 5 areas of discussion that were not fully developed in terms of being discussed with all of the participants in multiple workshops, but which nonetheless emerged within individual locations as potentially being of great importance in terms of driving the major shifts we are likely to see in the value of data over the next decade. These are areas which require deeper exploration and discussion.

  • Data capital
  • Data liability
  • Data imperialism
  • Digital taxation
  • Democracy and government


As we move forward with events across Africa in July and then onto China, North and South America as well as several European cities (Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Brussels and London)we will continue to explore these and additional view. As we gain feedback, additions and enhancements, we will share another interim summary in September ahead of the final report later in the year.

We would like to thank the generosity of the forward-looking organisations that have supported the varied workshops to date including: Carnegie India, Facebook, IBM South Africa, The University of Pretoria, The Lee Kwan Yew School of Management in Singapore, ISGPP, DMCC, RISTEX, NISTEP and TAL. We would also like to thank all those who have spared their time to join in our discussions to date and share their perspectives.