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Prototyping for Democracy

How does data sharing for the public good really work?

Notes from the DCWG working session in Hamburg,
2 March 2023 

The Data Commons Working Group (DCWG) is a key element of The New Hanse – assembled experts in the field of data governance, city officials from Hamburg, municipal policymakers from Barcelona and Bologna, legal, economic and technical experts all guided by the project director Francesca Bria, meeting on a regular basis, aiming to work towards innovative models of data sharing for the public interest in a European context. It was Bria who stated the goal of this meeting in Hamburg: “We are prototyping next generation policies and practices for data sharing in the public interest”, she said – against monopolistic actors and winner-takes-all marketplaces, against an extractive digital capitalism and the surveillance business model of authoritarian states. How can democracy flourish in the age of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

For Bria, it is the city which is the ideal space and scope to work on democratic innovation in the digital age – conscious of the difficulty of creating a shared mindset with a city administration, the alignment of mindset and interests. A few key questions in this power struggle between public and private: What is the right approach, what are the right incentives, the regulatory, technical and legal frameworks?

In other words: Is there a vision for data sharing that is based on democratization of data and redistribution of wealth and power? “Cities are in a position to mandate data sharing for the public interest”, Bria said, “starting with large scale experimentation, such as urban data challenges to test new type of data governance models, rules and urban data sharing intermediaries. So far, we are mainly focusing on business-to-business data sharing in an industrial context, where data is traded in exchange of money in a competitive and extractive marketplaces. However, we need to put the public interest at the center, experimenting new sustainable economic models that protect the fundamental rights of citizens, while mandating the sharing of private data gathered in the public space”.

The discussion was vibrant and a variety of solutions to be experimented were analyzed with practical use cases. Jan Pörksen, state secretary and head of the senate chancellery of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, focused on the following questions: What are the incentives for the private sector to collaborate in voluntary data sharing scenarios? How to deploy smarter and more effective regulations on a city, national and European level? Adrian Fiedler, Hamburg's project lead and member of the DCWG, elaborated on the city’s experiences in the project "Connected Urban Twins" (CUT) and the potential value of data in ‘What-if’ scenarios with a strong focus on city planning and urban development. The Urban Data Challenge Hamburg, a collaboration between THE NEW INSTITUTE and the City of Hamburg, has exactly that goal: To find a framework to facilitate private and public data sharing for the common good, to tackle the city’s biggest challenges such as climate change, and improve mobility, infrastructure and the delivery of public services.

The problem at the moment is that the data market is becoming very monopolistic and a handful of companies as the computing power and technological capabilities to develop start of the art AI frameworks and large-scale language models. Thus, companies like Google could become a de facto data monopoly intermediary. The question that the Working Group is addressing is how to redistribute the access to public interest data and how to govern this data truly in the public interest. In this context, Max von Grafenstein of Universität der Künste in Berlin and the Einstein Center Digital Future introduced the initial work of the legal stream that will lead to the development of a legal blueprint with a state of the art analysis of the different regulatory frameworks and laws regarding data sharing at local, national and EU level, together with a practical plan to implement an urban data sharing intermediary, potentially run by a non for profit public entity that allow for the participation of companies and the third sector.

After the legal analysis, the group moved to the presentation of the governance and technology blueprints. Fernando Fernández-Monge of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership and Rainer Kattel of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose Initiative leading the governance stream, emphasized that to define the public interest, we need to look at measures that are reactive (market fixing) or proactive (market shaping).

The bottom line is: Data needs to be seen as a public infrastructure. And cities like Barcelona, Hamburg or Bologna are already working in this direction and spirit.

Pau Balcells from Barcelona shared the city’s learnings regarding data sovereignty policies, their legal approach related to data clauses in public procurement contracts and the large experience of the Barcelona Municipal Data Office in sharing data with the private sector. The City of Barcelona is also interested to develop a general framework that mandates data sharing for the public interest: “This is a must for us. We need that data to manage the city in the citizens’ interests”. Pau emphasized that “when we are talking about data governance, cultural change is crucial” – “we need to identify who are the people willing to move forward within a city administration”, he said, “start with small projects, quick wins and after that tackle big projects”, building on internal resources, supporting an agile approach. The idea is continuous improvement in co-creation with the Data, IT and business units. “Run away from perfection”, he said, “it is the enemy of the good.”

In her outlook, Francesca Bria posed the question: What would a Data Act on a municipal level look like? How do we design urban data intermediaries that protect citizen’s human rights while allowing for sustainable and generative economic models? The discussion was heated and the conversation open and dynamic. For Bria, it is important to build momentum. “This is a critical political problem for the future – and there is a gap”, she said. “The municipal level can be a strategic experimental ground to craft new European policies that could change the rules of the game”.

Summary & Slides: DCWG working session, 2 March 2023

Media Gallery (photos & videos)

DCWG legal stream lead Max von Grafenstein
DCWG member Maria Savona
DCWG co-lead governance stream Rainer Kattel
DCWG co-lead governance stream Fernando Fernandez-Monge Cortazar
DCWG member Stefania Paolazzi