On behalf of RFTE, a group of renowned scientists and experts—including complexity researcher Peter Klimek, simulation researcher Niki Popper, WU Vienna expert Jesus Crespo Quaresma, Austrian statistical director Tobias Thomas, political scientist Barbara Brainsak, and scientific researcher Helga Nowotny—has drafted a paper. Position on data management strategies in Austria.
From this, the Research Council came up with a recommendation that includes three basic and urgent measures: defining policy priorities for the national data strategy, developing a comprehensive data infrastructure, and promoting positive connotation of the data subject in the general public.
The pandemic has exposed gaps in the data
The pandemic has shown that gaps in the data system in Austria are significant, not only for science and the media, but also for the general public. It has been difficult to answer with certainty in this country which population groups are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. The same was true of the Ministry of Education when it came to finding out how many teachers had already been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Ultimately, reliable answers to questions that seem obvious for a long time often fail because of unavailability or linkability of data, legal hurdles, questionable ownership on the part of organizations, more or less justified data protection concerns or lack of know-how.
Data management law as an opportunity to change culture
According to the RFTE, there should be a cultural change in data processing and the necessary human and technical resources for this, and the development of qualifications for the competent management of a complex and modern data ecosystem, unified standards as well as legal data protection conditions and an ethical framework. At the heart of the required measures is, among other things, a “central information point” for the use of data from the public sector.
Such a system should be set up in Austria by the end of September 2023 anyway as part of the European Data Governance Regulation (DGA). So there isn’t much time left, co-author of the position paper, Michael Stampher of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF), explained to reporters. The state should be given a helping hand here, as there is still “a lot of work to do,” according to RFTE’s Anton Grachopf.
Small data center has already started
The Austrian Small Data Center (AMDC), which was launched a few months ago and which allows designated research institutions to access comprehensive and anonymous registration data under strict data protection conditions, can play an important role here.
“From the council’s point of view, expanding the AMDC under the umbrella of Statistics Austria represents a sustainable and cost-effective way to create an independent central information point,” the council recommends.
Statistics Austria has so far provided the majority of its own data, but the responsible ministers must decide whether data from government and social security funds will also be opened to search. The Research Council demands that the topic be given political priority.
Lost data infrastructure is expensive
Anyone who wants “state functioning properly in this country,” Stampher said, “should speak up.” If new digital capabilities are not used and are not used responsibly, “harm will be done.” That could be far more expensive than the necessary investments in a working data infrastructure, as can clearly be seen from misdirected funding in the context of the pandemic, according to the WWTF president: “In the future we will save a lot of money and trouble.”
The commission therefore recommends “enabling access to public record data in all federal ministries” and “filling data gaps in order to enable and support evidence-based policies”.
Sylvia Schwag-Serger, President of the RFTE Federation, takes the political will for all of this for granted, but one must “act fast”. Then there will be an opportunity for Austria to take a real leading role instead of – as is often the case – starting an arduous process of catching up, according to the innovation expert.