Data Tour

Summary Report 

Each month, the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) organises a virtual tour which connects actors working on the same digital policy issue in Geneva. The ‘Data Tour’ is the fifth event in the 12 Tours to Navigate Digital Geneva series, which helps the Geneva community to navigate International Geneva by theme and by highlighting convergences.


  • Humans have long been at war with nature, but it is time to stop the war and develop balance and harmony in order for us to remain part of our planet. We are now at a stage of transition, moving towards a new economic and social paradigm, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a roadmap that can lead us to this new paradigm of making sustainable changes.
  • The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are not only about indicators and statistics: the very important part of the 2030 Agenda is the change of mindset. Reaching the SDGs should become important for everyone.
  • Geneva is the place where we connect the dots, discuss and look for solutions to effectively reach the 2030 Agenda, and bring digital and the environment together. In this, the various organisations and actors, often operating in silos, should open their doors and begin to cooperate and engage in dialogues.
  • The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an important forum for linking digital transformation, the environment, and sustainable development. Its 16th annual meeting will be held in a hybrid (blended) format in Katowice (Poland), 6–10 December 2021. Sustainable development and the environment cut across all the main themes which will be discussed at this upcoming meeting.

The Data Tour brought together representatives of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) who discussed the potential of data to connect different organisations and communities in Geneva. Director of Diplo and Head of the GIP Dr Jovan Kurbalija kicked off the discussion by highlighting that the Geneva digital scene is very rich and vibrant, but still lacking coherence between the dynamics of different organisations, businesses, and professional communities.

CERN and data

A dialogue for better data management has already emerged between CERN and the WHO. CERN is one of the world’s largest data processing setups which stores more than 30 petabytes of data every year, generated by the Large Hadron Collider. In July 2017, the Laboratory passed the milestone of 200 petabytes of data permanently archived on its servers.

CERN’s data is shared with scientific research institutions worldwide. It has a unique experience in data preservation, moving gradually from generating data to a data-driven and data-consuming scientific world. CERN is keen to seek partnerships where its experience can be more related to attaining the SDGs and to designing better and more cohesive strategies  within its area of competence and mission, said Dr Archana Sharma (Senior Advisor for Relations with International Organisations, CERN).

CERN’s experience in preserving and managing data can be applicable in many areas, from the health management sector to climate change, weather forecasting, migration, and the private sector. ‘We certainly need resilience in these days, but partnership and paradigm shift in terms of data governance and evidence-driven approach on how health data can be managed is a natural extension of what we do at CERN in terms of data and knowledge sharing in the digital age,’ Sharma stated.

WHO and data

Data as a strategic asset is central to the work of the WHO. The collection, safe storage, sharing, analysis and use of health data require standards, structures and solutions. This needs strong links between policy drafting and implementation. Health data is the basis for the development of a growing number of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the health field.

To address the research, regulatory, legal and ethical aspects of data and digitalisation, the WHO established i) a Digital Health and Innovation Department, in the Science Division,  and ii) a new Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact (DDI). DDIs work includes raising the profile of data as a strategic asset for WHO, revising the way in which data is governed within the organisation and by member states, and ensuring the necessary structures, standards, policies, and solutions required for that purpose.

The WHO works with different partners, including CERN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which operate outside the health sector. Such partnerships stimulate WHO to think differently of how data can be governed and shared and leverage resources for common agendas. Through the Health Data Collaborative (HDC) and SDG 3 GAP, WHO also works with multilateral agencies, civil society initiatives, private organisations, and academia towards finding solutions to data and digital governance issues, especially around data sharing and data collection during and beyond COVID-19 and  achieving the SDGs, with focus on communities left behind.

The dialogue between the WHO and CERN is aimed at identifying the required research and data-management tools and platforms to form the basis of the cooperation between the two organisations, as well as to gain experience from CERN’s data governance model involving multiple states, actors, and policies for sharing sensitive data.

This data-sharing experience is of particular interest to the WHO because of the often sensitive nature of health data. Health data has an element of confidentiality at both the individual and community levels, and requires anonymisation to protect human rights when dealing with public health emergencies such as the ongoing pandemic where member states need to have access to a range of information for public-health management purposes.

The partnership between CERN and the WHO is built on building trust between organisations and individuals, said Craig Burgess (Development Cooperation Specialist, WHO). There has also been a series of informal lunches. He noted that, although colleagues in both organisations work on different issues, there are elements of data governance which are similar for both, and that trust is built on individual levels, through sharing technical ideas, and by being open for dialogue and new ideas.

UNEP and data

The Data Tour also hosted UNEP, whose organisational agenda currently includes digital transformation as well as the development of the global environmental strategy. The strategy will put together international standards, enabling the aggregation of environmental data and decision-making in real time, the creation of a planetary dashboard, and monitoring  Earth’s vital signs.

Putting such a global environmental data strategy together involves massive stakeholder consultation processes. The issues to be tackled in this process include the high-value data sets needed for systematic monitoring, access to these data sets, measuring such data, and developing  relevant taxonomy, data generation, data disclosure, business models to finance data, and a broader global data governance framework. ‘We are building the coalition for digital environmental sustainability codes, and the mission there is how we integrate environmental data values and goals into the codes and algorithms of the digital economy. That is a brand new multistakeholder partnership that we are kicking off now to try to advance some of these broader goals,’ said David Jensen (Coordinator of the Digital Transformation Task Force, UNEP).

Other key aspects of UNEP’s partnership evolve around the acceleration of trust-building problems through digital platforms, including blockchain, as well as fulfilling standards for progress reporting under various conventions. The problem with these major conventions is that a stocktaking exercise takes three to four years, which is problematic for real-time decision-making.

The trend now in the data space is the generation of global data sets from Earth observations and from the combination of cloud computing and AI. ‘We need a global reporting framework to monitor if countries are on the right track in terms of fulfilling their international environmental commitments,’ Jansen said. He noted that it is in the best interests of countries to report and monitor this progress, which will enhance the efficiency of the global action to which countries agreed under international conventions.

Incentives to share and monitor data include reduced costs due to technological progress in data collection, such as the militarisation of sensors and cloud computing. In the future, there can also be compensation or revenue mechanisms to incentivise countries to share data, making sure that some value can be returned to the country that is willing to share data.

Data governance and data use are becoming cross-cutting issues at all levels of any organisation. The idea of a ‘data caravan”’ or ‘data bazaar’ of moving data governance experience from one organisation to another, with technical discussions and peer-to-peer exchanges, can help establish the required dialogue and achieve better data governance.

In this regard, there is also an important role for various platforms and events, such as the 12 Tours to Navigate Digital Geneva and the Road to Bern via Geneva dialogues which connect the organisations working in different realms, create a network between them, help them share and gain experience and move ahead together. ‘I am happy to see that with the Road to Bern, we at least modestly contributed to fostering the environment where different organizations realize that they can benefit from the experience of the other, achieve interoperability, build more capacity within the rich ecosystem in Geneva,’ said Amb. Jean-Pierre Reymond (Head of Office of Innovation and Partnerships, Permanent Mission of Switzerland in Geneva).

 Prepared by Boris Ohanyan