How will the future affect our data infrastructure?

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At the ODI we’ve been thinking about our data infrastructure and how different future scenarios will affect it


As billions more people come online, what will our data future look like? CC BY 2.0, uploaded by

It can be a complex concept but we believe data infrastructure is as vital to the digital revolution as our transport infrastructure was to the industrial revolution. When data infrastructure flourishes and data usage reaches its full potential then we will receive better services and our environment, our economies and our societies will be improved.

As part of this work we have been considering some future scenarios for data. While software continues to eat the world and as billions more people come online it is useful to understand the potential data futures that may come into existence and how they will affect our data spectrum of closed, shared and open data.

The data infrastructure is affected in each of our different scenarios. Futures dominated by open data or those dominated by data sharing agreements will have different needs that the infrastructure must support for data to be as widely used as possible.

Visualising the future using the data spectrum

We used the data spectrum to visualise the different scenarios.

Image by the ODI, CC-BY

The data that we choose to keep closed may not all be personal. The data in this area of the spectrum could be created by individuals or by organisations. It is data that only the owner can access and use.

Shared data contains data that is shared with a specific person or group of people. How data is shared, who has access to it and how they can use it will often be the subject of a licence agreement. Sometimes data might be shared with specific people for a specific purpose. For example, health data might be made available to certain researchers – who have applied for access – for medical research purposes. People and organisations make a choice about whether to share data based on how it will be used and what benefits they’re likely to receive in return.

Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share.

The spectrum clearly has this horizontal axis of closed, shared and open but the spectrum also has a vertical axis. On the picture of the spectrum this axis shows mountains of data. When considering future scenarios we imagined that this vertical axis represented the proportion of data of a given type.

The data infrastructure that is so vital to our future needs to support the whole data spectrum but the frameworks, systems and governance within the infrastructure will differ according to the type of data that it is supporting. That is one of the many reasons why it is so important for us to understand the data spectrum.

Three future scenarios

We structured our thinking around three potential future scenarios:

A locked-down future: in this future access to most data has been closed. People, organisations and governments only allow access to their data under very limited circumstances.

A paid future: the future is built around a pattern of micro-compensation for data. Compensation currently takes the form of access to services (email, social networks) but in this future it will increasingly be monetary payments from companies to individuals (“Company X will give you €10 for a year’s access to your browsing data”).

An open future: a world where most data is published openly, whilst our privacy remains protected.

In the next article we will discuss the locked-down future, how it would emerge and what it would mean for us, our environments, our businesses and our society.

Peter Wells is an Associate at the Open Data Institute. You can chat with him @peterkwells.

If you have ideas or experience in open data that you’d like to share, pitch us a blog or tweet us at @ODIHQ.

Thanks to Jeni Tennison, Ellen Broad and Richard Stirling for their assistance in putting this together.

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