Modern society is characterised by a spike in the amount of data generated, which is available in a growing number of forms and formats. From big data to open data and from crowdsourced data to social media, many sectors have taken advantage of the opportunity to better inform their work, guided by this rising tide of the big data sea. The potential of this ‘data revolution’ also reaches the shores of international organisations (IOs), which face the challenge of continuously adapting to this ever-changing data environment, to be able to integrate the potential of new forms of data in their operations and mandates.
Although there is a growing awareness of the potential of the data revolution, this document focuses on tackling some of the key challenges that arise in practice within this new, digital environment, characterised by new forms and sizes of data, new demands for analysis and data storage, new skills and changing legal contexts. As observed from Geneva, each IO faces particular datadriven challenges and opportunities related to their scope of work. Yet, all IOs ultimately face similar tests in their digitization efforts – thus sharing approaches and issues on which they could learn from each other is beneficial. As the operational centre of the UN, Geneva hosts a total of 33 international organisations, 23 of which with headquarter agreements here. The institutions hosted here range from specialised bodies of the UN to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the World Trade Organization.
The reflections in this paper have been informed by the Data Talks, which converge representatives from IOs in Geneva with the aim of sharing best practices, experiences, and lessons learned about data across silos and institutions. In addition, the document has been enriched with insights from data-related sessions at the 12th Internet Governance Forum, which took place from 18-21 December in Geneva.