ARTICLE

Call to Action: Why the G20 needs a Data20

Global data governance is urgently needed and the G20 can seize the opportunity to promote productive debates from an inclusive and fair perspective. Global civil society is discussing the inclusion of Data20 among the forum's engagement groups to boost the debate, which is already a priority in the Digital Economy Working Group. Check out the article by Astha Kapoor (co-founder of India's Aapti Institute), Bruno Bioni (executive director of Data Privacy Brasil) and Stephanie Diepeveen (associate researcher at the University of Cambridge), exclusively for the G20 Brasil website.

06/13/2024 12:00 PM - Modified a month ago
Photo: Unsplash

Data is fundamental to an increasingly digital world: from AI to digital public infrastructure, questions must be considered about data access, content and representation, conditions of its use, and governance. It remains critical to unlocking value through digital innovation, and negotiations over data governance and value creation are at the core of ongoing multilateral discussions over global cooperation in an increasingly digital world.

Through discussions and progress over the content and form of the Global Digital Compact, and looking forward to the UN Summit of the Future, global cooperation and consensus on data governance remain key points of debate within multilateral fora. 

These discussions reveal the importance of attention to data in multilateral forums, given its ubiquitous impacts on development globally and across sectors. Also they reveal important challenges to global data governance, given data’s distinctive economic and informational characteristics and competing values, perspectives and priorities.

The G20 has an important contribution to make in building a shared approach and understanding of global data governance, leveraging the countries/stakeholders that make up the G20. Yet, the G20 has not yet capitalised on its opportunity to push forward productive and shared discussions aimed at building consensus on global data governance. 

Data is a shared concern across the formal working groups and official engagement groups of the G20. However, these discussions often take place in a siloed fashion: the Digital Economy Working Group has been exploring digital public infrastructure; the W20 (Women’s 20) the gender digital divide; B20 (Business20) explores policies to support innovation and inclusion in digital transformations from the perspective of business; T20 (Think 20) looks at  knowledge production around the link between data justice and inclusive digital transformations; the C20 brings civil society perspectives on digitalization in relation to rights and equality; L20 highlights if the decent data work and a sustainable labor supply chain and reskilling programs through continuous learning; while one of the Y20’s thematic axes is the future of work. 

Under Brazil’s presidency, G20 should establish a convergent position on data governance

Therefore, while data and its implications for inclusion, innovation and development feature throughout the G20 discussions, the G20 lacks a joined-up approach. The participation of diverse groups is a strength of the G20, but equally it has given way to a siloed approach to stakeholder discussions. Each forum approaches data from a different set of sectoral perspectives and policy concerns. And, while groups have independently had some success in bringing data-related issues to the G20 Leaders Summit, the G20 lacks a coordinated or holistic structure through which to share and coordinate shared and complementary concerns around data across G20 groups. 

A fragmented approach has prevented civil society and government actors, especially in the Global South, from being able to fully consider the varied and complex implications of data for the SDGs. This also means that the recommendations and actions around data put forward across the G20 are not coordinated, and do not operate from a full view of data issues from DPI to AI, to ensure that the new data economy is just and equitable. Under Brazil’s presidency, G20 should establish a convergent position on data governance, and a set of proposed policy instruments to promote transnational data solidarity, including methods for evaluating and leveraging the public value of data as a common good.

In line with the Brazilian's priorities it should be explored the relationship between data justice and inclusive digital transformation by: i) emphasising the citizenship-focused nature of the concept, in consideration of the current digital divide that jeopardises the Global Southern epistemologies for an equal and sustainable planet; ii) avoiding discriminations, precarious work and an unbalanced environmental impact that are amplifying the historical power asymmetries and marking even more peripheral the Global Majority of the World; iii) data governance is the foundational element for an equitable AI development, since such computational power is necessary fulfilled by data;        

The G20 has a unique opportunity to work towards a shared global understanding and knowledge base around data, as a multilateral forum that represents around 85% of the world’s GDP, and given its emphasis on consensus and open dialogue, as opposed to binding outcomes. 

A more cohesive approach to data by the G20 could facilitate countries, businesses and civil society groups in accessing more comprehensive and cross-sectoral material and conversations about digital development solutions, especially data, and driving collective action. Focusing on data provides a key opportunity to connect the different sectoral and policy discussions around digital transformation across the G20, and ensure a more impactful and holistic impact on multilateral and national decision making. The sidelining and siloing of considerations about data across G20 discussions equates a missed opportunity for a more coordinated and holistic view of policy issues and options around data governance.

Our Call to Action: A cross-sectoral Data20 within the G20 

Together with other civil society actors and think tanks involved in the G20, we have identified a critical need and opportunity for the G20 to lead a more cohesive and global approach to cross-sectoral and intergovernmental discussions about data. 

We propose the creation and convening of a Data20, or D20 (1), which brings together people and knowledge from the formal engagement groups and working groups of the G20 on the specific issue of data to help to bridge some of the internal divides within the G20 and enable it to become a key voice and leader in building a shared knowledge base and understanding of the roles, implications and value of data. Rather than sit alongside other engagement groups, the D20 would be aimed at bridging the groups that exist around their common concern for data, as the ‘lifeblood’ of a digital world. D20 would focus on knowledge sharing to inform other groups, analyse the implications of data policy and action across sectors, and drive towards intersectionality of concerns such as the use of health data or employment data with key stakeholders in the G20 process. It would also serve to pull out data related insights from other complementary G20 processes such as W20, L20, T20, C20, B20, and so on. Finally, it would serve as the anchor for collaborative action among different stakeholders working on data issues such as digital rights experts, AI developers, data bankers, cloud and compute businesses, etc.  

The D20 agenda is not just valuable to G20’s multilateral positioning but also speaks to other ongoing processes such as the Global Digital Compact (GDC), the negotiations for which are to start soon.Discussions around the GDC have acknowledged that data governance has evolved in a fragmented manner around the world and that there is an urgent need to strengthen international data governance. The D20 could play a critical role by facilitating connections between G20 discussions and related processes kicked off by the GDC once it is finalized and approved. D20 also speaks to efforts such as the UK AI summit which does connect the growth and development of AI to data, along with talent and compute power. This centrality of data to the AI discourse is reflected in ongoing conversations both in the policy as well as multilateral realm such as the Seoul AI summit in December 2024. 

The Brazilian G20 Presidency presents an opportune moment to initiate a process towards a D20, providing a timely complement to these wider global efforts. It would enable the G20 to become a space and resource for open discussion about data across countries and sectors, which enable stakeholders to develop a shared understanding and knowledge of the diverse contexts and impacts of data creation, use and value creation. To this end, we propose the Brazilian G20 convene an initial multi-stakeholder consultation on a D20, engaging its member countries and formal engagement groups as a first step to supporting a cohesive and inclusive approach to multilateral knowledge sharing and discussion on data governance. The G20's declaration should at least create such a focal point and highlight the cross-cutting issues such as data privacy and data protection, data use and sharing, cross border data flows, cybersecurity, digital public infrastructure and AI to accelerate SGDs and its paradoxical effects to the environment. Alongside the D20, there should be a committee of experts on data governance with a mandate that connects at least three presidencies to promote the continuity and cohesion to boost such an agenda. Therefore, in the next South Africa's presidency, D20 will possibly serve as a node for collaboration across the G20 and its existing formal engagement groups, sharing insights and responses to data governance issues which are currently being grappled with globally, and supporting focused , multilateral action.

Astha Kapoor - Co-founder, Aapti Institute (India) and Co-chair of sub-track on Digital Transformation and Platformization of Public Services at T20's Taskforce on Inclusive Digital Transformation
Bruno Bioni -  Founder and Executive Director of Data Privacy Brasil and Lead co-chair of Taskforce on Inclusive Digital Transformation
Stephanie Diepeveen - Senior Research Fellow, ODI and Research Associate, University of Cambridge

(1) D20 could be be branched into the three avenues of the G20: i) on the Sherpas track, bringing together all thematic groups from health to digital; ii) on the finance track, to discuss the possibilities of financial resources for enabling methodologies and integrative actions among the countries; iii) on the G20 Social, bringing together the views of various interested groups from civil society, industry, think-tanks, civil society, sciences, etc. Periodically, there could be a summit meeting of these three avenues for the purpose of data convergence.

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