The Royal Society and British Academy have launched a report on Data Management and Use – Governance in the 21st Century.

According to the report, the current framework for governing the management and use of data cannot keep pace with technological advances.

The bodies behind the report have therefore called for the establishment of a new independent body to “steward an overall framework that can safeguard public confidence” and ensure that the any potential benefits of data use – including improved public services, better healthcare and business innovation – are fully realised.

Data Management and Use: Governance in the 21st Century found that data usage, data collection and management are increasingly intertwined, and new ways of using data make it difficult to define which data is sensitive.

The report found that there are clear gaps and too many silos in the current governance framework, resulting benefits and risks not always being identified and addressed in a transparent and inclusive way.

Chief among the report’s recommendations is the adoption of a set of high-level principles to guide future data governance. It suggests an over-arching principle that systems governing data must promote “human flourishing,” which focuses on ensuring that data is used to serve individuals and communities.

The report also recommends the creation of an independent body to steward the governance landscape as a whole. It would anticipate, monitor and evaluate the management and usage of data, build practices and set standards and provide clarity and propose solutions where tensions arise.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser FRS, chair of the Royal Society Science Policy Advisory Group and co-chair of the report, said: “We have reached a stage where most aspects of our day-to-day lives generate data that is collected, presenting opportunities for various actors to use this information.

“Many of the ways in which the data is used lead to positive impacts for us and wider society. However, the rapid rate of change in this area requires a new approach to governance that can keep pace, ensuring that the risks and benefits of new applications can be debated in a transparent and inclusive way.”

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