Getting value from data: the second paradigm shift

3 February 2016, Sophia Woodley

Last December I was lucky enough to attend a conference put on by Ctrl-Shift, on the theme of the personal information economy and growth through trust. Since then I’ve been musing on what I heard.

There is a paradigm shift underway when it comes to data – the second of the digital age. The first shift, enabled by digital technologies, led to companies being able to exploit and generate value from the data they held, turning their data – their customers and users’ data – into a major commercial asset. It also led to companies using your personal data in ways that you may not have understood or consented to.

However – and this was the theme of the Ctrl-Shift conference – the tools created by the digital age are now enabling a second paradigm shift, to a world where ordinary people are able to control their personal data and gain value from it themselves.

One conference speaker put forward the idea that our data protection laws are based on a fundamentally old-fashioned model: the idea that 'Data about people (data subjects) is controlled by organisations.' What would it mean, he asked, if we recognised that people should be the controllers of their own data?

My tweet about this was my most re-tweeted of the conference – not because of the content in itself, but because of the speaker, who was Stephen Deadman, Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of doubt on social media about whether anyone should be counting on Facebook to lead a future global privacy revolution.

Inevitably the conference got me thinking about how arts, culture and heritage organisations fit into this shifting landscape around the use and exploitation of data. Many organisations, driven by the need to become more resilient and sustainable, are still near the beginning of their journey – learning to understand that the data they hold is one of their key assets. For example, in working with Artsadmin to improve the way they work with data across the organisation, the first step was to help them understand that they could to use it to help realise their creative and commercial ambitions.

Though it may seem that arts organisations would be ‘behind’ big corporations in the sophistication of their data handling and analysis, the major advantage they possess is the strength of their relationships with their audiences, visitors and users. Indeed, organisations with more sophisticated box office systems, and the ability to analyse the data from them, may be more sophisticated in audience segmentation and analysis than many media companies.

Another conference speaker, Geraldine McBride, founder of MyWave, suggested that the norms of human relationships ought to apply to the use of data: mutual value, trust, permission, respect, and a two-way conversation. All of these are areas where arts organisations are already strong. For Artsadmin , one of the key moments of discovery was when they realised that using data better could help them to deepen and build the important relationships they already possess with their audiences, artists, hirers and other stakeholders.

In a world where trust and relationship-building are increasingly important in the data economy, arts organisations should be aware of the assets that they possess – both data and the relationships underlying that data – and the possibilities of using it in ways that build value both for their audiences and for themselves.

Keep an eye out for part two of this article, which will discuss the relevance of this paradigm shift to entertainment and media companies.

Thanks to Liz Brandt of Ctrl-Shift for the invitation to Personal Information Economy 2015: Growth Through Trust.

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