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Design Principles for Data Spaces - Position Paper

Nagel, Lars; Lycklama, Douwe

Coordinated approach for establishing data spaces to live up to European ambitions for a thriving data economy

The position paper "Design Principles for Data Spaces" underlines the importance of data spaces and though the sovereign sharing of data in creating the future data economy. It is the first approach to define the design principles for data spaces, agreements on the building blocks for a soft infrastructure and governance for data spaces.

In February 2020, the European Commission announced the European Strategy for Data, aiming at creating a single market for data to be shared and exchanged across sectors efficiently and securely within the EU. Behind this endeavour stands the Commission’s goal to get ahead with the European data economy in a way that fits European values of self-determination, privacy, transparency, security and fair competition. For this to achieve, the rules of accessing and using data must be fair, clear and practicable. This is especially important as the European data economy continues to grow rapidly – from 301 billion euros (2,4 % of GDP) in 2018 to an estimated 829 billion euros (5,8 % of GDP) by 2025.

The centrepiece of the European Data Strategy is the concept of “data spaces”, for which the Commission defined nine initial domains, all driven by sector-specific requirements. From a technical perspective, a data space can be seen as a data integration concept which does not require common database schemas and physical data integration, but is rather based on distributed data stores and integration on an “as needed” basis on a semantic level. Abstracted from this technical definition, a data space can be defined as a federated data ecosystem within a certain application domain and based on shared policies and rules. The users of such data spaces are enabled to access data in a secure, transparent, trusted, easy and unified fashion. These access and usage right can only be granted by those persons or organisations who are entitled to dispose of the data.

As individuals and organisations usually act in multiple ecosystems at the same time, they are not limited to sharing data within a single data silo or data domain only. Thus, data spaces can be overlapping or even nested. To prevent fragmentation of the data economy into multiple, mutually isolated domains, and to create appropriate conditions for setting up an open data ecosystem characterized by mutual trust between participants, a European ‘soft infrastructure’ is needed, specifying legal, operational and functional agreements as well as technical standards for being widely adopted by users. The total number of all data applications organically emerging over time will then constitute the de-facto infrastructure. This (intangible) infrastructure will facilitate both data sovereignty and platform interoperability across multiple domains, with users participating in multiple data spaces and switching from one data space to another in a seamless fashion.

Just like other soft infrastructures (e.g. the internet), data spaces are sector-agnostic, with many requirements and functions being similar or even identical across different sectors and data spaces. Therefore, creating a soft infrastructure for data spaces primarily is not so much a technological challenge, as there are plenty of technical solutions and standards available.

Realising interoperable data spaces is more of a coordination challenge: agree on standards and design principles that are accepted by all participants. While making data interoperability work in pilot applications, proof of concepts, and living labs is relatively easy, the real challenge lies in viewing interoperability as the new norm for facilitating mass adoption and scalability. The authors of this position paper expect that a critical mass for irreversible adoption can be achieved within five years, while full adoption will take about a decade.

The soft infrastructure underlying European data spaces should be developed and established in a coordinated way, combining technological, functional, operational and legal processes. Thus, it should be carried by the community of public and private stakeholders – and not by an individual keystone company, as we know it today from leading platform providers. An inspirational analogy can be made here to GSM (the standard for mobile telecommunication), which is also a soft infrastructure bringing together distributed actors and data in a unified user experience across the globe, simply through collaboration and coordination based on well-balanced governance mechanisms. A similar approach to setting up European data spaces will leverage the full potential of the European data economy in line with European ambitions and values.

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  • European commission (2020). Communication from the commission to the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions. available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-european-strategy-data-19feb2020_en.pdf

  • IDC (2020). Final Study Report: The European Data Market Monitoring Tool Key Facts & Figures, First Policy Conclusions, Data Landscape and Quantified Stories. available at https://datalandscape.eu/sites/default/files/report/D2.9_EDM_Final_study_report_16.06.2020_IDC_pdf

  • Big Data Value Association (2020). Towards a European-governed data sharing space. Available at https://www.bdva.eu/sites/default/files/BDVA%20DataSharingSpaces%20PositionPaper%20V2_2020_Final.pdf

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