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Headlines about data – Data reuse as powerful tool to solving today’s societal challenges

Brussels, Belgium: May 23, 2023

We are living in times of rapid change. Our societies are confronted with a myriad of complex and interwoven challenges that need to be urgently addressed. As the SDG Report 2022 points out, the confluence of crises, triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, are creating spin-off effects on a multitude of areas, such as food, mental health, and education, to name but a few. Finding holistic solutions to global challenges requires bold and concerted action as well as tapping into new methods and practices. Data, when used sustainably, responsibly and ethically, is a powerful tool to achieving meaningful progress for people and the planet.   

Data has become a central part of our everyday lives. The rapid (r)evolution in technologically-based areas, among them generative AI, has led to large amounts of ‘big data’ being generated and collected in real time. This data holds huge potential: If used responsibly, it has the power to help us make better informed decisions about our future, benefitting society as a whole. Our ability to access, use and reuse meaningful and trustworthy data is key in tackling the pressing and interconnected concerns of our times.    

Working to unlock the power of data to help address today’s challenges is the very rationale of The Data Tank (TDT). It is why we exist. At TDT, we are committed to serving the common good together by using data differently. Our vision means a significant shift in how we think about data, how we access it and what we do with it. 

When we launched TDT on 6 March 2023 in Brussels, it was important to us to show that the work we focus on is of immediate relevance to the global challenges that surround us every day. To that end, we picked six recent headlines from different global newspapers covering a range of topics from wind and solar energy projects and mental health issues to water scarcity, migration challenges and food shortages. None of these headlines had an obvious connection to data or data use. Together with our guests, we discussed how the issues at stake could benefit from better access to quality data and how using this data could potentially help solve the problem at hand. 

In the course of their exchanges on the benefits – and preconditions – of using data differently to help address the issues at stake, our guests also pointed out a number of crucial aspects to consider, from the need to look at different approaches in the Global North and South when utilising data in decision-making processes to making use of available data on energy gris location, weather forecasts, etc. to overcome climate change-related challenges. They also emphasised the need to create robust frameworks for improving overall digital collaboration, literacy, and skills.  

As we continue to work towards re-using data in tackling the pressing global problems of our time, we encounter obstacles that can limit us from fully unlocking its value. These barriers range from biased and incomplete data sets to unequal access, asymmetries in data availability and a shortage of skilled professionals in the field. At The Data Tank, we set out to address these concerns by developing two programmes to improve data’s potential as a powerful tool: the Social Licence Lab and the Data Stewardship Programme. 

Our Social License Lab seeks to design and implement new processes and methodologies that build trust between data givers and receivers. We aim to co-create new participatory frameworks that empower communities and individuals to determine how data should be used for purposes other than those for which they were initially collected, if at all. Our Data Stewardship Programme seeks to redefine the role of individual Data Stewards. They are trusted enablers – the essential human infrastructure – who will take the lead in identifying challenges that can be solved with data – and do it in a responsible way so that data reuse and sharing becomes a valued part of everyday life. 

Both, our Social Licence Lab and our Data Stewardship Programme, are immediate responses to the need for robust frameworks recognised by the guests who attended our launch. We look forward to shaping them together – and to help find solutions to today’s pressing challenges.

References: 

The Data Tank. (2023, March 7). The Data Tank launches: Nonprofit Start-up Empowers Data Accessibility and Revolutionises Data Usage for the Common Good. Www.datatank.org. https://www.datatank.org/news-insights/the-data-tank-launches-nonprofit-start-up-empowers-data-accessibility-and-revolutionises-data-usage-for-the-common-good

United Nations. (2022). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022. United Nations. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2022/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2022.pdf

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