Fostering trust in innovation: The potential of sandboxes for data

November 27, 2023

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Most of the technological development we have seen over the past few years is driven by data, whether we are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, or artificial intelligence technology. This puts data not just in the center of attention in terms of how economies are run and society structured, but also calls for the need to design systems that accommodate its constantly-changing nature. 

Data now underpins and reflects practically all economic sectors and social activities. Policy-making, at local, national and international levels, also critically relies on data. It’s no surprise therefore that data challenges are creeping into many sectors, from finance, mobility, and health to name a few examples. Trust in data use, management and sharing is also now becoming increasingly crucial to leveraging data-driven technologies and systems to their full potential. 

Unfortunately, for too long, governments, international organizations and the private sector have been using siloed frameworks and uncoordinated actions to tackle how we use and regulate data. With applications such as chatGPT, the potential of data to track and help manage carbon emissions, and the sheer amounts of data required for  quantum computing, our regulatory frameworks and policy development processes appear concerningly outdated. This blog will share insights on how operational and regulatory innovations such as sandboxes could help address some of these issues and help build trust between the private and public sector as well as citizens who rely on data’s value being responsibly unlocked for all.

Siloed frameworks and uncoordinated actions have lead to various sub-optimal outcomes

Data has unique properties, different from traditional goods and services. In particular, its non-rivalrous (yet excludable) nature and unlimited reusability enable increasingly complex value chains, with the potential to create unprecedented social and economic value through sharing. However, in their efforts to leverage digital technologies or engage in the data policy space stakeholders are faced with numerous challenges:

  • the public sector cannot keep up with challenges posed by emerging technologies or address local and global issues solely through mechanisms limited to national borders,
  • the private sector cannot innovate in the face of regulatory uncertainty or navigate competing compliance obligations across many jurisdictions, 
  • academia cannot influence the direction of society because research is often not translated to key decision-makers, preventing promising ideas from being tested,
  • civil society cannot find and allocate resources across the multiplicity of fora and issues impacting rights and development.

More generally, discussions about data governance take place in multiple sectoral and policy silos, often far from the practitioners or affected agents. Addressing privacy, cybersecurity, national security, content moderation, digital trade, or taxation as fully separate issues may seem efficient in the short term. However, this overlooks major interdependencies. 

The challenges we face in today’s data-driven world require a level of dynamic collaboration we have never seen before.

If we believe an overarching common objective should be to maximize the well-being of individuals and societies, this requires broad sharing of data, which creates value, but also to ensure that appropriate resilience mechanisms detect, prevent and remediate misuses.

Unfortunately, the current lack of mechanisms to bridge existing silos constitutes an obvious institutional vacuum: a global cross-sector dialogue involving all categories of stakeholders is a priority prerequisite to the transdisciplinary collaboration data governance requires. On that basis, major actors could experiment with dynamic arrangements (e.g. transnational regulatory sandboxes).

Sandboxes offer a new tool that can transcend borders

Sandboxes are collaborative environments that test innovative technologies and data practices against regulatory frameworks, or experiment with new uses, capabilities, and means of governing data. The controlled experimentation environment provides a low-risk model for testing challenging, new ideas. Legal and regulatory certainty can help facilitate market entry and enhance competition. Regulators get to interact with the latest technological developments and solutions, building trust among stakeholders. Sandboxes can be a crucial space for stakeholder involvement in a way that you develop trust, exactly because it generates more knowledge of synchronicity and stakeholder alignment. Testing policies and technology through sandboxes can also generate more trust on those policies and technology generating greater public understanding of emerging technologies, practices, rules and norms. 

While  sandboxes can unlock groundbreaking possibilities, at the moment their cross-border potential has been underexplored, remaining largely as national or subnational endeavors.

An iterative global effort is needed to experiment with new ways to responsibly unlock the value of data for all

In 2022, with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom, the Datasphere Initiative released a report Sandboxes for data: Creating spaces for agile solutions across borders. The report provides a roadmap for policymakers looking to set-up a sandbox as a way to tackle a particular data policy question or issue and includes some examples of experience with sandboxes examining the model of regulatory sandboxes, what they stand for, and how they could offer workable solutions for cross-border data flows.

Guided by the findings of this report the Datasphere Initiative would like to bring together a global cross-sectoral community of experts to design cross-border sandboxes for data, build trust, and share experiences. A Global Sandboxes Forum could not only encourage more cross-sectoral innovation but also, increase data availability and accessibility. By participating in a safe space to share and test technical standards or policy interventions, stakeholders could together, support the creation of digital public goods and build more robust and diverse coalitions of stakeholders than what has been seen to date. 

The 2023 edition of the Network Readiness Index, dedicated to the theme of trust in technology and the network society, will launch on November 20th with a hybrid event at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Register and learn more using this link

For more information about the Network Readiness Index, visit

Lorrayne Porciuncula is the Executive Director of the Datasphere Initiative. For the last 15 years, her professional and academic experiences have been focused on issues around data, Internet governance, infrastructure regulation, and communication policy. Lorrayne is an affiliate to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, conducting research on data for development. She holds a Master’s degree in Development Economics from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Switzerland, an Executive MBA from the Quantic School of Business and Technology, and an International Relations bachelor’s degree from the University of Brasilia (UnB), Brazil.