Europe Should Promote Data for Social Good

Data-driven innovations have the power to address some of the most pressing social challenges in Europe by better informing policy and program design, improving service delivery, and spurring social innovations.

Changing demographics in Europe are creating enormous challenges for the European Union (EU) and its member states. The population is getting older, putting strain on the healthcare and welfare systems. Many young people are struggling to find work as economies recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Europe is facing a swell in immigration, increasingly from war-torn Syria, and governments are finding it difficult to integrate refugees and other migrants into society. These pressures have already propelled permanent changes to the EU. This summer, a slim majority of British voters chose to leave the Union, and many of those in favor of Brexit cited immigration as a motive for their vote.

Europe needs to find solutions to these challenges. Fortunately, advances in data-driven innovation that have helped businesses boost performance can also create significant social benefits. They can support EU policy priorities for social protection and inclusion by better informing policy and program design, improving service delivery, and spurring social innovations. While some governments, nonprofit organizations, universities, and companies are using data-driven insights and technologies to support disadvantaged populations, including unemployed workers, young people, older adults, and migrants, progress has been uneven across the EU due to resource constraints, digital inequality, and restrictive data regulations. A renewed European commitment to using data for social good is needed to address these challenges. 

This report examines how the EU, member-states, and the private sector are using data to support social inclusion and protection. Examples include programs for employment and labor-market inclusion, youth employment and education, care for older adults, and social services for migrants and refugees. It also identifies the barriers that prevent European countries from fully capitalizing on opportunities to use data for social good. Finally, it proposes a number of actions policymakers in the EU should take to enable the public and private sectors to more effectively tackle the social challenges of a changing Europe through data-driven innovation. Policymakers should:

  • Support the collection and use of relevant, timely data on the populations they seek to better serve;
  • Participate in and fund cross-sector collaboration with data experts to make better use of data collected by governments and non-profit organizations working on social issues;
  • Focus government research funding on data analysis of social inequalities and require grant applicants to submit plans for data use and sharing;
  • Establish appropriate consent and sharing exemptions in data protection regulations for social science research; and
  • Revise EU regulations to accommodate social-service organizations and their institutional partners in exploring innovative uses of data.
Europe Should Promote Data for Social Good