The overarching focus of Stefaan Verhulst's working paper, part of the UNU-CPR’s ’Breakthrough’ initiative to build understanding, appreciation, and momentum ahead of the Summit of the Future in 2024, is to highlight the paramount importance of data in shaping our future and the UN SDGs and the critical need for a strategic, ethical approach to its use. Its central message is clear: as we move deeper into the digital age, the way we manage, share, and utilize data must evolve to reflect principles of empowerment, responsibility, and equity. It encourages a global, collaborative effort - an International Decade of Data - to redefine data governance, ensuring that it serves not only the interests of powerful entities but also upholds the rights and freedoms of individuals and communities across the world. 

A critical aspect of this working paper is its focus on Digital Self-Determination. He defines the principle as foundational in shaping how individuals and communities interact with and manage their data in an increasingly digital world. It recognizes the need for individuals and communities to determine how their data is being re-used and highlights how this can lead to societal benefits.

Key Highlights of the Working Paper as it relates to DSD:

  • The Need for Responsible Data Reuse: The paper stresses the importance of using data responsibly, especially given its growing necessity in various sectors. It advocates for building social licenses for broader and more responsible data reuse.

  • Challenges in Digital Landscape: Verhulst points out the inadequacies in operationalizing principles of autonomy and decision-making freedom in the digital landscape. The paper identifies a disparity in data and agency, challenging the traditional tenets of self-determination.

  • A Human-Centric Approach to Data Governance: The working paper advocates for a shift towards a human-centric approach in data governance. This approach emphasizes empowering citizens and communities in the digital space, transcending geographical boundaries.

  • Operationalizing DSD: The paper calls for the development of foundational and operational frameworks to support DSD. It also emphasizes the need for real-world use cases, international guidelines, dialogue among stakeholders, and a global platform for ongoing discussions on DSD.

  • Global Advocacy for DSD: A significant portion of the paper is dedicated to advocating for global acceptance and implementation of DSD principles. This includes formulating international guidelines and fostering a global dialogue through various platforms.

Conclusion: The Road Ahead

Stefaan Verhulst's working paper lays down a roadmap for the next decade in data management and governance. By highlighting the importance of Digital Self-Determination, it calls for a paradigm shift in how we view and handle data. The paper serves as a beacon for policymakers, data professionals, and communities, guiding them towards a future where data is not just a resource but a tool for empowerment and responsible innovation​​.


To read the publication please go here, and to learn more about the ’Breakthrough’ initiative, please go here