PANEL: Data Collaboration in the Age of COVID at My Data Conference 2020
On Thursday, December 10, 2020, The GovLab hosted a panel discussion on “Data Collaboration in the Age of COVID-19” at the MyData Conference 2020. Facilitated by Stefaan Verhulst (Co-Founder and Chief R&D at The GovLab), panelists Kelly Jin (City of New York), Claudia Juench (Cloudera Foundation), Dave Greene (Microsoft), and JoAnn Stonier (Mastercard) discussed ways the COVID-19 response could inform efforts to foster cross-sector data reuse in a responsible, systematic, and sustainable way.
Given the MyData Conference’s focus on “strengthening digital human rights while opening new opportunities for business to develop innovative, personal data-based services,” the panelists discussed a range of issues including institutionalizing data stewardship, the need to build a business case for sharing, and the barriers to collaboration. Six key topics included:
- Lack of Readiness at the Outset of the Crisis: Each of the panelists discussed how unprepared organizations were for the data reuse necessitated by pandemic. Though some organizations were developing capacity before the crisis, none could have predicted the speed and scale at which they would need to transform. “When COVID happened, every organization transformed overnight into a data organization,” said Mastercard’s JoAnn Stonier. This lack of preparedness points to a need to build data infrastructure and an ecosystem to tackle dynamic threats.
- Value of Aligning Around a Common Purpose: The panelists also discussed the need to move quickly into action given the size of the crisis. To do this, Microsoft’s David Green talked about the importance of focusing on an actionable problem, a purpose to motivate data collaboration. “Aligning around a purpose,” Green said, “helped us to plan our strategies for [data] extraction and reuse.”
- Importance of Building Capacity: For Claudia Juech, CEO of the nonprofit Cloudera Foundation, a major issue amid the pandemic was a lack of pre-existing data capacity. “The capacity to manage data was very, very rare in the nonprofit space at the start of the pandemic [and] it has a lot to do with funding,” said Claudia. “Who are the funders out there willing to help organizations set up practices and develop a data culture?” A lack of data skills can prove crippling amid a crisis.
- Need to Develop a Business Case: These remarks echoed a similar sentiment from JoAnn Stonier. Though data collaboration can produce value for the public, the sustainability of a project often depends on the ability of its sponsors to connect that to some business case. JoAnn noted, “The questions [around reuse] are ‘what’s the business case’ and ‘why prioritize this over everything else?’”
- Role of Data Stewards: Meanwhile, in her remarks on the struggles facing public-facing institutions in the early days of the crisis, Kelly Jin, Chief Analytics Officer of the City of New York, spoke about the value of data stewards in facilitating data reuse projects. Companies with responsible data leaders empowered to seek out and respond to requests for data reuse tended to be easier to engage, especially when the data steward “understood data, policy, and people.”
- Need to Center Privacy and Data Responsibility: Finally, all the participants spoke about the importance of respecting the rights of data subjects and ensuring projects were responsible by design. Part of this work, as Kelly noted, involved improving the accessibility of projects so the public can have a say in how data is used. The data ecosystem needs to be built for everyone. Another part, as JoAnn noted, is having principles around data sharing at the outset that respect the need for privacy and security.