Authors – Marissa Hoekstra & Tjerk Timan, TNO

In past blogs we have discussed the policy frameworks for Big Data and AI. Data is considered to be the fuel for AI; for it to reach its full potential, additional and larger datasets need to be made available (Lopez de Vallejo, Scerri & Tuikka, 2019). This raises a number of questions, most notably concerning how to collect and get access to trustworthy, valid and reliable data? How can companies and governments align data from different sources, while simultaneously protecting civil- and commercial rights? From practice, we see that data sharing still is a major issue for many large-and small companies alike. Since there is no single model for data sharing, yet there are many initiates and platforms out there, we will provide some examples of data-sharing initiatives ranging from a European to a local level and ranging from experimental to established practices between the public and private sector across countries and sectors.

European level

A recent position paper from the BDVA argues that data spaces, data platforms and data marketplaces can play a key role to unleash the potential of data (Lopez de Vallejo, Scerri & Tuikka, 2019). The importance and potential of data sharing between organizations is also on the agenda of the European Commission. On July 15 (2019), the European Commission launched the Support Centre for Data Sharing. The aim of this centre is to facilitate data sharing and focusses on researching and reporting about data-sharing practices and EU legal frameworks (European Data Portal, 2019; Support Centre for Data Sharing, 2020).

In November 2019 German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany has become too dependent on foreign-owned digital infrastructure, and that Europe should achieve more digital sovereignty, as most of the tech giants in the field of cloud-computing are based in the U.S. and China. As a result, Germany and France launched the GAIA-X initiative with the aim to create a platform for Europe, based on European values where its states, European companies of all sizes and its citizens can store, process and exchange data (German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, 2020; Delcker, 2019).

However, there is also skepticism about how GAIA-X would Europe to achieve more digital sovereignty. Critics of the project warn that among the 300 companies and organizations that are involved in setting up GAIA-X, are tech giants Amazon and Google. Nevertheless GAIA-X does have the potential to bring more transparency and openness to the market. In one of our previous blogs, ONYX, a UK based startup around big data in the wind turbine industry, talked about how they experience vendor lock-in in the wind-turbine industry and how they are involved in a sector-lead call for regulatory intervention from EU. GAIA-X does have the potential to put more pressure on market players that use their position to vendor lock-in and hopefully allow asset owners like Onyx access to their data (Delcker & Heikkilä; 2020).

The introduction of the GDPR has resulted into more awareness among EU citizens and companies on data protection and privacy. For this reason it is of importance for companies that they make sure that they comply with privacy regulations. An example of a privacy friendly European initiative is from Dawex, a data exchange technology company that provides a global data market place where companies can share data by sourcing, monetizing and exchanging data. The approach of Dawex is based on privacy by design and by default, which means that companies can share data through this platform securely and in full compliance with regulations. Dawex also provides a data exchange platform that gives companies the opportunity to run their own data exchange platform and control how their data is being used. In light of COVID-19, they have recently launched a pro bono COVID-19 Data exchange platform aimed at enabling the exchange of vital non-personal data between public and private organizations to hinder COVID-19’s dissemination and restrain its economic impact (Dawex, 2020).

National level

At the national level there are also many initiatives in a variety of sectors that that SMEs or startups can join to obtain trustworthy, valid and reliable data. For example in the Dutch agricultural sector data sharing is relatively fragmented and takes place in silos. JoinData, founded in 2017 by farmer cooperatives, has launched a digital data sharing platform aimed at countering this fragmentation by making data sharing in the Dutch agricultural sector more transparent and efficient. On the platform data providers like farmers or laboratories can share data with parties that are interested in this data. It also provides the opportunity for farmers to gain a better overview over the data that is created at their farms, thereby gaining more data sovereignty and creating more potential for their farm businesses to innovate and grow in a sustainable manner (Support Centre for Data Sharing, 2019; JoinData, 2020).

Another example of an initiative that has already been launched is DANS (Data Archiving and Networked Services), founded by The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Dutch Research Council. The aim of DANS is to encourage researchers to make their research data and outputs findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. On their website they have an open database with approximately 282,129 datasets (DANS, 2020). These datasets are open to the public and can also be a useful tool for SMEs and startups to collect and to get access to data.

An initiative that is still in development is the Amsterdam Data Exchange (AMDEX), aimed at solving the problem that many organizations are willing to share data, but are not always able to do so, by creating an internationally trusted open data market for both the public and private sector (Amsterdam Economic Board, 2020). Although the initiative is still in the developmental stage, it does have the potential to change the way in which we exchange data in the future.

Local level

Another initiative in the Netherlands are SME digital labs, which are local public-private partnerships between the public sector, SMEs and educational services. The aim is to help SMEs to accelerate the digitalization of their business, by setting up projects that are carried out by students enrolled in ICT programs at Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences or vocational education. For example, Platform Driven by Data, in the province of Noord-Brabant gives SMEs the opportunity to gain more insight in data-analysis and the digital transformation of their business, by setting up projects that are carried out by students enrolled in the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (Nederland Digitaal, 2020; Platform Driven by Data, 2020).

The above-mentioned examples illustrate that data can be collected from a wide variety of sources and that the most commonly known are public data made available by governments or commercial datasets. However, a less known source is citizen generated data. Citizen-generated data is defined by DataShift as: “[…] data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. It is actively given by citizens, providing direct representations of their perspectives and an alternative to datasets collected by governments or international institutions” (DataShift, 2015, p.1). Across Europe there is a growing number of projects that use citizen-generated data. Most of these projects are based in the environmental, public health, energy, transport and infrastructure sector. The majority of these projects are carried out by the public sector but citizen-generated data also offers potential for the private sector and SMEs. An example of a project that applied citizen-generated data is Curious Noises, the largest citizen science project on air quality to date. It measured air quality near the houses of 20.000 citizens living in Belgium in May 2018 (Ponti, 2020; CurieuzeNeuzen Vlaanderen, 2020).

Citizen-generated data initiatives are a useful addition to institutional data and it offers the opportunity to collect data in areas where there is a lack of data. In addition, it offers the opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard (DataShift, 2015, p.1; Ponti, 2020, p.7). Moreover, connecting data collection to the actual people data came from, not only enhances potential trust and willingness to share, it also forces companies to be far more clear about the purpose and the proportionality of such data collection, and can spark fruitful debate – and potentially – improve the digital service being developed.

3 takeaways for SMEs

This blog provided an overview of the recent developments concerning data sharing initiatives ranging from an European to a local level. To conclude, hereby are three key takeaways:

1. First of all, try to look beyond ‘traditional’ data collection initiatives. The examples above illustrate that there is a wide variety of data sharing initiatives out there, ranging from an European level to a local level. Instead of using commercial datasets from platforms owned by tech giants like Amazon and Google, local initiatives may also offer your business or startup valid, trustworthy and reliable data.

2. Second, since the introduction of the GDPR there is a growing number of data sharing initiatives that take civil and commercial rights seriously. If you want to share data, make sure that it is shared through a secured and GDPR compliant platform.

3. Third, citizen-generated data can offer great potential for your business or start-up. Not only does it provide access to new forms of data sources, at the same time it can offer citizens the opportunity to make their voices heard and it forces companies to be far more transparent about the purpose and proportionality of data collection.

References

Amsterdam Economic Board. (2020). AMdEX – Eerlijke, open en betrouwbare datamarkt. Retrieved here.

DataShift. (2015). What is citizen-generated data and what is the data shift doing to promote it? Retrieved here.

Delcker, J. (2019, 26 September). Germany’s plan to control its own data. Politico. Retrieved here.

Delcker, J. & Heikkilä, M. (2020, June 5). Germany, France launch Gaia-X platform in bid for ‘tech sovereignty.’ Politico. Retrieved here.

European Data Portal. (2019). European Commission launched the Support Centre for Data Sharing! Retrieved here.

German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. (2020). GAIA-X: The European project kicks off the next phase. Retrieved here.

Lopez de Vallejo, I., Scerri, S., Tuikka, T. (eds) (2019). Towards a European Data Sharing Space. Brussels. BDVA

Nederland Digitaal. (2020). Versnelling digitalisering MKB. Retrieved here.

Ponti, M. (2020). Citizen-generated data for public policy. A brief review of European citizen-generated data projects. JRC technical report. Retrieved here.

Support Centre for Data Sharing (2019). Data sharing in the agricultural sector. Retrieved here.