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Development in the Data Economy

A One Day High Level Workshop

Hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
In collaboration with the African Development Bank and with Travel Support from the Centre for Africa Studies, Harvard University
Date: 13 September 2019
Venue: Milstein West A, Wasserstein Hall, Harvard Law School


8:30-9:00: Welcome Coffee and Registration

9:00-9:15: Opening Remarks

Dr. Urs Gasser, Executive Director, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, and Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School

9:15-10:30: Session 1: Enabling Data-Driven Innovation

This opening session will look at how data-driven innovation can be enabled in less developed and vulnerable economies globally. It will address two sets of questions: (a) In what ways can digital technologies - especially big data analytics and artificial intelligence - help improve performance of local firms, and possibly, enable local firms to recapture markets, in order to leverage what was previously viewed as a lack of advantage? (b) By engaging the private sector experiences, what lessons can be drawn from business models that have had some degree of success?

Session Chair: Prof. Venkatesh Narayanamurthi, Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Session Speakers:

10:30-10:45: Coffee Break

10:45-11:45 Session 2: Platform Capitalism and Techno-Domination: Myth or Reality?

It is widely acknowledged that the rise of platform capitalism where businesses build on personal data has been critically disabling for the emergence of digital sectors in many parts of the world. As data accumulates in the hands of a few companies worldwide, it raises questions of hegemony, technological domination and whether current means of collaboration and use of digital technologies can empower all? This session unpacks many of these notions, and addresses the following questions: (a) Are the current forms of business collaboration and data trade recognizing the plurality of data needs, cultures of appropriation and preservation and use? (b) Are there competing versions of internet governance, rights and use, and what can we draw from initiatives like China’s digital silk road, or India’s new policies in this regard?

Session Chair: Prof. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, and Director, Program on Science, Technology and Society, Harvard Kennedy School

Session Speakers:

  • Prof. Margo Bagley, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
  • Mr. Jeffrey Ding, Chinese Lead, Center for the Governance of AI, Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford
  • Mr. Ananth Padmanabhan, Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, India (Remote participation)

11:45-1:15: Session 3: Data Governance Gaps and Policy-Data Interfaces

Even as many countries seek to articulate digital strategies for development, data governance gaps for big data and AI are glaringly large across countries. There has been a call to look beyond personal data to jump start the economic activities of firms and enterprises in key sectors of relevance in less developed countries. There have also been calls to promote the use and re-use through instruments such as data cooperatives,data trusts, or global data pools. New institutions are needed to facilitate these mechanisms; alongside governance frameworks that prevent undue data extraction. There is also a need to assess whether these initiatives sufficiently address marginalization and loss of autonomy that is prevalent in many countries. This session will address these questions, deliberating whether existing solutions can be applied to leverage non-personal data for local development, to which extent, and how we might be able to envision alternate data models. It will also discuss the extent to which policy-data interfaces are currently not understood, and what can be done to address this.

Session Chair: Mr. Robert Fay, Director, Global Economy Program, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Canada

Session Speakers:

  • Dr. Chintan Vaishnav, Senior Lecturer, Sloan School of Management, MIT and Founding Member, MIT Tata Center for Technology Design
  • Mr. Mohammed Zahran, Spatial data infrastructure (SDI) Specialist, Zanzibar Urban Services Project (ZUSP), Zanzibar Mapping Initiative, Tanzania
  • Dr. j. Siguru Wahutu, Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University and Faculty Associate, Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University
  • Dr. Stefaan G. Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer, The Governance Lab, New York University (Remote participation)

1:15-2:15: Lunch Break

2:15-3:30: Session 4: Development-Oriented Data Strategies: Designing New Realities

To harness data as a developmental asset, countries need comprehensive strategies that promote the use of data for economic and social prosperity. In order to reap the gains of the data economy that have been harnessed many advanced countries ranging from high-quality jobs, skill transformation, economic growth and e-governance, countries might need to re-conceptualize skills, education, R&D and innovation needs in a more comprehensive way. Alternate technology architectures need to be created, AI needs to be governed, and cyber security issues need to be assuaged. Countries also need to focus on building digital infrastructure that promotes their own needs and preserves their developmental options. What lessons exist from the efforts of other countries in this regard? How can social sectors - such as health care, energy and overall social welfare - become a central part of such strategies? What are the most urgent changes needed in this regard, and what models can suit countries best in Africa, Asia and Latin America?

Session Chair: Dr. Padmashree Gehl Sampath, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University and Professor Adjunct, Aalborg University, Denmark

Session Speakers:

3:30-4:00: Coffee Break

4:00-5:00: Closing Round Table: Creating Fair Markets and Enabling Competition in a Global Data Economy

The abuse of market power by incumbent companies can make it impossible for new companies to enter and perform, even when other factors, such as capabilities, an enabling framework for innovation, and policy support are all provided for. The rise in market power can be misused by large firms to amass data, which is the engine of growth in digital markets, thereby preventing local firms from engaging in innovation. Last but not least, it helps preserve high profits of larger, incumbent firms across digital sectors, which accrue not entirely due to innovative investments but due to undue market power or reduced competition from a strategic use of dominant positions. What particular challenges require urgent attention, and how can level-playing fields be created in the developing world? Do we need a global governance regime to address at least some of these issues, and how can countries engage in new forms of governance cooperation?

Chair and Moderator: Prof. Ruth Okediji, Jeremiah Smith. Jr. Professor of Law, Harvard University


  • Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Director General, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Authority, Nigeria 
  • Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala, Deputy Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, South Africa, and Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg

5:00-5:15: Final Remarks

Dr. Padmashree Gehl Sampath, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University and Professor Adjunct, Aalborg University, Denmark

Workshop Organizer: Padmashree Gehl Sampath, Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University