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From Data for Policy to Policy for Data

Charting a New Course for Data in the Age of AI

Data is a driving force in our world, used for analyses that inform decisions across business, government, and daily life in our society. As we navigate an increasingly data-rich landscape, managing and responsibly using data presents a complex set of challenges that require dedicated attention for public policy. Considering and addressing these challenges enables us to create tools through a comprehensive data policy framework that helps data work better for everyone. 

Policymakers rely on data to identify trends, evaluate outcomes, and allocate resources, directly affecting people’s lives and business’s overall performance. The growing volume and complexity of data, influenced by advancements in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), present both opportunities and potential pitfalls for the policymaking community in using data. While it is crucial to continue promoting the use of data to inform policymaking, we must also ensure that sound policy choices and principles guide our data practices.

To ensure policymakers – and others – can both make decisions with data and make decisions about data, we need a comprehensive public policy framework for data. A public policy approach for data means connecting various organizational policies, initiatives, and reform efforts to ensure we are building data policies that align with the government's overall objectives and the public interest. Some elements of the framework, for example, would include:

Establishing clear guidelines and principles for data governance, so that we can ensure data is used responsibly, ethically, and in a manner that benefits society as a whole. 

A cohesive approach to data management and interoperability, because as we navigate the increasing amount and diversity of data generated, public policy must evolve to acknowledge the broader implications of data where standards and systems are needed to align information across silos, organizations, and sectors for value. 

Model policies that promote the beneficial use of data while safeguarding against potential risks, we can harness the power of data to drive positive change in society.

The increasing public awareness of AI and technological advancements also highlight the urgency of addressing data policy as a new cross-cutting sector for research and practice. AI fundamentally relies on data to identify patterns and provide analytical output. The availability, quality, and representativeness of this data directly impacts the fairness and accountability of AI applications. Attention to the evolving public policy framework for data is needed to address the complexities of modern data governance.

The Data Foundation’s Center for Data Policy is established based on a recognition of the need for dedicated attention to the topic of data policy in the United States.  The Center for Data Policy  brings together experts from various disciplines to develop innovative approaches to data governance, fostering collaboration and dialogue to create a shared understanding of the opportunities and risks associated with data-driven technologies, and to identify and advance improvements for policy approaches in the United States.

The Center for Data Policy aims to develop adaptable policy frameworks that keep pace with the evolution of data and AI, addressing intersecting topics that include  privacy, transparency, and accountability. By engaging with industry leaders, academia, civil society, and policymakers, the Center for Data Policy works towards creating a trustworthy data ecosystem that works for everyone.

Data can be a powerful tool in crafting good policy. The establishment of the Center for Data Policy represents a crucial step towards ensuring that the benefits of data-driven technologies are harnessed responsibly and in the public interest. Our work takes a systems approach, considering how to facilitate greater coordination across laws, regulations, policies, and people.  By recognizing the need for this conceptual shift and investing in comprehensive data policies across traditional policy domains and topics – like agriculture, welfare, and energy – we can build a future where data serves as a force for good, empowering individuals, communities, and our society in the Digital Age.

CORINNA TURBES is the Director of the Center for Data Policy, and previously served as the organization’s Policy Director. The Data Foundation launched the Center for Data Policy in 2024.

 

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