PUBLISHED:November 14, 2019

Duke Data Governance Design Conference launches collaborative research network


Speakers from business, technology, and the public sector gather at Duke in D.C. to discuss the future of data collection, management, usage, and security

The continuing evolution of how data is collected, managed, used, and secured will require leaders to adopt a human-centered mindset, experts from business, law, technology, academia, and the public sector told attendees at the Duke Center on Law & Technology’s Data Governance Design Conference.

The inaugural DGDC, an all-day event held Nov. 8 at the Duke in D.C. conference facilities in Washington, D.C., marked the launch of a collaborative research network and agenda to bolster the theory and practice of data governance, generally defined as the set of policies and practices that organizations ranging from companies to international bodies apply to data under their control. The conference drew leading experts on the law, technology, and governance of data from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada to speak on topics ranging from the legal infrastructure of digital supply chains and practical challenges around jurisdiction to representation, customer advocacy, and the role of the digital citizen.

Six Duke Law students received scholarships to attend – Jonathan Ellison ’22, Sara Forden ’21, Anat Polyachenko LLM ’20, Sangita Gazi LLM ’20, Andrea Rojas Rozo LLM ’20, and Nur Kumru LLM ’19, currently a research fellow at the Center on Law & Technology. The center is directed by Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Technology and Innovation Jeff Ward.

Panel discussions reflected the center’s focus on the governance of data and digital services to maintain trust – especially as data and the digital tools that comprise the Internet play increasing roles in shaping society, facilitating the exchange of ideas, allocating rights and resources, and fueling economies.

“We need to recognize that we are in control of technology and have a conversation about the outcomes we want,” said Merritt Baer, principal security architect at Amazon Web Services during the opening plenary panel on situating and framing data governance. “We shouldn’t be supplanting values decisions with machines.”

Afternoon breakout sessions addressed topics such as jurisdiction and data governance, alternatives to traditional governance models, political economies of decentralized versus devolved platforms, and the opportunities and challenges of building traceable provenance in and between companies.

Many speakers emphasized the need for a human-centered approach to the collection and use of data, including educating the public on digital rights and avoiding unintended consequences of technology by ensuring diverse representation in development teams.

“When we think about data as property, it allows us to abstract it from the human… How do we bring it back to the person?” asked Jasmine McNealy, associate professor at the University of Florida, fellow at the Stanford University Digital Civil Society Lab, and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. 

“Data is not a separate single observation. It is in a system, it is social, it is connected to an individual and those individuals they are connected with. It is connected to context and context matters.”

Added Marc-Etienne Ouimette, head of public policy and government relations at Montreal-based Element AI: “We have a right and a say in how data is collected in the areas it should be used. Representation is a good in and of itself. It shouldn’t be thought of only to build better products.”

As an outcome of the conference, Digital Public will host and manage a new collaborative research network on data governance in collaboration with the Duke Center on Law & Tech, Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop, The University of Western Australia, and the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Digital Public co-hosted the event along with the Duke Center on Law & Tech. Additional sponsorship was provided by Covington & Burling LLP, Element AI, Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab, and the Ostrom Workshop.