Future Value of Data

Generated on 19th December 2017

As digital change accelerates in and around many sectors, we will explore emerging technological, social, business model and regulatory shifts and how and where they may most impact over the next decade. As with our other deep-dives, each event will bring together industry leaders, academics, regulators and innovators to challenge the emerging view, add in regional perspectives and identify what, where, how and why key changes will probably play out. All hosts will co-curate the participant invite list, be able to use all insights from their events for thought leadership and PR, will gain access to all views and underlying research from the whole programme and be recognized in the final report.

The programme will kick-off on 10 January with a workshop in Bangalore hosted by Facebook building on an initial view. An accompanying initial perspectivedetails the context and key questions to be addressed. Up to 30 further events are in planning for the first half of 2018 and all are being kindly hosted by forward-looking governments, academia and other corporates. At the moment, the scheduled locations for these discussions include Bangalore, Bogota, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Delhi, Lagos, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Singapore, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. We would welcome the opportunity to run further events, particularly in Africa, Asia and South America, therefore if you are interested in being involved in this programme as a host or co-host, do let us know and we can start to broaden the schedule.

Why This Topic?

The meteoric rise of the so-called ‘tech titans’ whose business models rely on the collection, creation and monetisation of huge data sets, has thrust data to the forefront of social and political discourses around the world. These companies, whose products are now woven into the very fabric of our existence, have shown us what data can do and how it can transform our lives, but perhaps unwittingly, they have also pushed a topic once the preserve of ‘nerds’ and ‘wonks’ into the mainstream. Global public debate around everything from growing inequalities, political freedoms and human rights, to global resource management, climate change, even the very future of economic and social progress, all now involve heady proclamations about the use, abuse, power and possibility of big data.

There are also debates around the role of data in and of itself. The current landscape of such debate is often characterised by simplistic binary oppositions that cast one aspect of data capability or use against another. Take the open and heated politics around encryption and personal messaging services. In essence, this is a debate that sets the value of personal data privacy against the benefits and value of data collection for national security. This kind of divided debate often leaves little room for a middle ground.

Another example might be the debate around data ownership. Much of the tenor of this debate, particularly around the commercial use of collected ‘personal’ data, seems to be couched in a language that diverges views on the issue: either ‘you own it’ or ‘they own it’ or ‘you should own it’ or ‘they should own it’. The reality of course is much messier, but again a middle ground response such as ‘actually you might both, in some senses, own it’ misses the point. Where the ownership discussion is really coming from is the far more polarised politics around how the economic benefits of data collection and monetisation are distributed between the collectors and the collectees.

In a world of increasing inequality, those corporate entities that are able to both collect and harness massive sets of personal data for financial gain are often cast as, in a sense, exploiting or in some of the more extreme rhetoric, stealing, what rightfully belongs to their customers and users. In other words, the data ownership debate is polarised precisely because it is part of an already polarised political debate around economics and inequality.

Divided discussions are unhelpful. They leave us prone to policies or postures that shift wildly between extremes as one side or another gains ascendancy in different contexts. And there is more complication. Positions that are pitched against each other in one context, such as ‘security vs. privacy’, can actually be allied in another. Privacy and security, for example, are actually partners when it comes to defence against cybercrime. Similar contradictions and paradoxes crop up in discussions of proprietary data sets, intellectual property, open data and the almost mystical notion of data rights and responsibilities.

The Definition of Data

Even in those debates in which data is the very substance of the discussion the nature of what data actually is, is rarely questioned. It is assumed. This can be a big problem because the various protagonists might each have a notion of data that is dependent not only on the context of the debate they are having, but on their particular stance. This, in turn, can lead to argument in which each ‘side’ is actually thinking of data in quite different ways, and thus talking at cross-purposes.

Resolving these issues is not easy. In the absence of a good definition of what exactly data is or even a simple language that can adequately capture its role (or roles) in modern society, cod analogies have become commonplace.

Where Does This Leave Us?

The question of what data is may always depend on context. After all, when using the term we are already eliding numerous different types of data and data-set (raw, cleaned, aggregated, anonymized, qualitative, quantitative, structured, unstructured, static, personal, processed, meta, open etc.) that data analysts, statisticians and scientists have always understood to be quite different things. If this is the case however, then we must recognise the challenge of trying to take part in conversations and debates around data that involve multiple different perspectives, and in which different participants and stakeholders may hold very different ideas to those we hold.

What is needed perhaps is a common language or framework in which to talk about issues such as how data is created, collected, stored and refined, by whom and for what purposes, and the kinds of value that data can create for organisations, for consumers and for society, and of course how those values balance against each other.

We believe dialogue with multiple informed voices, and collaboration with other organizations will help to create a more considered view.  To this end we will discuss the role of data with experts, students, business leaders and start-ups. The conversations we facilitate will touch on topics such as the economic value of data and the value of data in tackling society’s needs and problems, but we will also consider the more fundamental question of what data actually is and how we should understand it

The Approach

Core to all Future Agenda projects is the principle that while the future is uncertain and there is no right answer, we can all be better informed if we understand others’ views. In our workshops we bring together groups of experts to explore, challenge and co-create shared perspectives of how the future may unfold. we discuss the future global, and regional shifts, identify those that will have greatest impact, focus on the main drivers for change and then detail the key implications, enablers and constraints. The output from one discussion becomes the input to the next, so that as we move around the world we build up a clear global view and also understand regional differences. This video of the Future of Health event in London in 2015 gives a good flavour of the workshop feel and flow. https://vimeo.com/138191975

Each event typically includes around 25 people – roughly split 20% for each of business, regulation, research, start-ups and ‘adjacent’ areas. We co-curate the invite list with individual hosts. Participant feedback is always highly positive and identifies the benefits of looking outside the day-to-day, having an independent platform for dialogue, meeting new connections and developing views that can be immediately used within individual organisations – for strategy development, innovation stimulus or thought leadership. All participants receive summaries of all outputs. Hosts gain deeper analysis and access to underlying data for their own use.

About Future Agenda

Future Agenda runs the world’s first and largest global open foresight programme. Every five years it initiates a cross discipline, global research project which unites some of the best minds from around the globe to address the greatest challenges of the next decade. In doing so, it maps out the major issues, identifies potential solutions, suggests the best ways forward and provides a unique open platform for collective innovation.

The core insights from the programme are shared via multiple platforms so that we can all be better informed around what others think about the next decade and so make better decisions. As well as online materials on slideshare and flickr, three books have been published:

Future Agenda: The World in 2020

Future Agenda: The World in 2025

Six Challenges for the Next Decade

Between the major 5-year global programmes, we explore other topics of interest in more detail.  Examples of these from 2017 includes the Future of Cities, where discussions were held in multiple locations including the key mega-cities but also locations where change may be accelerating or having significant impact, such as Beirut (migration), Christchurch (rebuilding after earthquake) and Guayaquil (prone to flooding). Other “deep dives” include Future of Surgery and the  Future of Philanthropy. The final major project for 2017 is the Future of Patient Centric data. This project will be completed in Jan 2018 and has some key insights of relevance to the Future Value of Data.

For 2018 we are focusing on two key topics – the Future of Banking and this project – the Future Value of Data.