Opinion

Why getting data infrastructure right is so important to any green Covid-19 recovery plan

As well as vital physical infrastructure, we need the right data infrastructure to navigate the climate crisis – and particularly to tie it together with Covid-19 economic recovery. Having better data available would help every part of economic Covid-19 recovery: at a national government level, where having better information to hand would elevate every part of the Whitehall decision making process; at local level, where being better informed would allow councils to make the right calls on green recovery; in the private sector, in allowing companies to make educated choices.

The last one there might be the most crucial: if we want a greener economy to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, better data infrastructure is key to private enterprise making more sustainable choices. As we discovered in our broader work, environmental data and software companies received the largest portion of equity funding in the UK, so this should be doable. All of our efforts to both avert the climate crisis and to rebuild the economy following the onset of the Covid-19 crisis are being hampered by poor data flows.

As the UK leaves the EU it must look to keep to a European standard on data – or even better it.  Finding a “goldilocks” zone of regulation – one that allows the right data to be shared while protecting data that needs to remain closed – will be difficult, yet vital.

Where should we start?

Some of the guiding principles to make this happen we know already: reduce the burden of information gathering and analysis by those requiring non-financial reporting data; reduce the burden of reporting from organisations across reporting frameworks, jurisdictions and scopes; unlock access to sensitive information by addressing legal, liability and consent management issues; and unlock access to non-sensitive information so that such access is commoditised.

What Project Cygnus recommends to get the right data infrastructure in place are the following:

  1. Data must be usable by machines, not just humans. Policies must mandate that data be machine-readable in order that it may be collected and used in an efficient manner. Equally important is the ability to discover that the data exists, what it is, where it is from, and how it may be used. This ‘metadata’ is a priority to make available so that data may be found and information about it accessed. Policies must mandate the production of meta-data that will aid discovery.
  2. The governments of the UK and Ireland should mandate the publishing of any non-sensitive data under an open license. This is essential to enable large-scale discovery of what data exists. Policies should also mandate the publishing of sensitive non-financial reporting data under a Shared Data infrastructure framework.  
  3. Data increases in value the more it is connected, so maximum connectivity must be a goal. A focus on systemic cohesion and interoperability reduces the burden of sharing by creating common rules and frameworks for sharing that address good data governance. It ensures data is used appropriately for the purposes intended, addressing questions of security, liability and redress.

Any plan to make the economic recovery sustainable will require something to be done on data infrastructure. Our recommendations would make for a great start.

Get started now

On 20 January 2021, we will be hosting a workshop for senior-level staff and decision makers who are interested in accelerating their organisation’s path to net-zero. It will help you understand the impact of remote working, benchmark your organisation and leverage our data-sets to help you make more informed decisions. If you’re interested in joining, find more information here.

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