Funded by the Digital Europe Programme of the European Union, the Data Spaces Support Centre (DSSC) is tasked with enabling the 14 data spaces launched by the European Commission - covering sectors from manufacturing and health to energy and cultural heritage - to collectively create an interoperable data sharing environment, and to exchange knowledge and best practice. To find out more about the work of the DSSC, we speak to Esther Huyer, Director for data strategy and data policy at Capgemini Invent, one of the 12 Consortium partners entrusted by the European Commission to set it up and run it.
Can you tell us about your own work and that of Capgemini Invent in the Data Spaces Support Centre?
At Capgemini Invent, we have long been supporting the European Commission on its path towards making data available and increasing its impact. We first focused on open data with the development of the European Open Data Portal data.europa.eu, and then deployed the Support Centre for Data Sharing - which gave advice on technical, legal and organisational topics around data sharing.
Its successor is the Data Spaces Support Centre. A data space is the model of data sharing currently seen as a best practice to achieve a common European data ecosystem in which data can be shared interoperably and compliantly across sectors.
For the new Support Centre, we teamed up with our partners from the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA), Fraunhofer Fokus and others with whom we formed the dataspaces4eu group in preparation for the actual project funded by the European Commission. As partners in the Data Spaces Support Centre, we are now supporting the development of key tools and are, in particular, responsible for the creation of a methodology to measure the impact and progress of the data spaces and conduct research on that basis.
The Data Spaces Support Centre was launched in October 2022. What have you been working on since then?
As most of the Consortium partners have been collaborating on the topic for many months if not years, there is a great deal of strong networking, public events and a solid body of knowledge to look at today. Having many renowned experts from all fields of data sharing in one ‘room’ leads to in-depth, very fruitful and exhaustive discussions to define and align the terminology, scope and strategy of the endeavour. Our priority is to consolidate this knowledge and align visions within our partners and stakeholders. A useful first outcome is the Starter Kit for Data Space Designers which is a How-to-Guide and collection of good practices on setting up a data space. We must remember that many data spaces do not have their own best practices yet or any legacy, on the contrary, they are in the early phase of forming, networking and researching.
The Data Spaces Support Centre will help establish common ground between the different data spaces. What type of meaningful connections do you envisage between them?
As much as the business rationale or purpose might differ between the data spaces, there is much common ground and many potential synergies. A data space for the common good and a data space for increased efficiency and economic impact both need, for example, a solid approach to data governance, technical and semantic interoperability, community outreach and upskilling.
Many building blocks and best practices can and should be shared. This also enables us to compare the data spaces even though they are different in their objectives, level of maturity, and many other aspects that we are yet to discover and assess. We also need to prioritise cross-data space use sooner rather than later. Examples for the common European data space for cultural heritage might be found in interlocking with the data spaces for Skills, Tourism, and Language. We are already in contact to assess potential use cases.
What are the building blocks and principles towards a common European data ecosystem?
The DSSC has based its Data Space Blueprint on the OPEN DEI Position Paper: Design principles for data spaces, which identifies interoperability, trust, data value and governance as key building blocks.
You are involved in both the Data Spaces Support Centre and in the deployment of the common European data space for cultural heritage stewarded by the Europeana Initiative. What is the thing you find most exciting about this connection?
That is a wonderful question and makes me smile! Where to begin? I have been working on the conceptual side of things for many years in my role as data strategy and policy advisor, and it now intrigues me to be part of the team putting them into practice. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be on both sides now: thinking and talking about blueprints, solutions and concepts, and also putting these elements into practice and making sure they stand the test of being realistic, viable, pragmatic and ultimately successful.
The second aspect that excites me is the cultural heritage mandate - a prestigious and vastly complex honour to be working on for Europe. Questions like finding, discussing, prioritising and realising digital preservation of our European culture entails so much meaning to me!
The 14 interconnected data spaces will grow at their own rates, but with the Europeana Initiative - already almost 15 years old - at its heart, the common European data space for cultural heritage has a head start. Based on this experience, what could the data space for cultural heritage share with the data space community?
Although I fully agree with you and the idea that Europeana has a head start, I would also like to add that a rich legacy can also be burdensome. Looking at legacy IT systems or data platforms and their migration, I have seen the complexity of a proven solution when it has to undergo change. Processes, mind-set and beliefs need to follow the shift as well. That is the reason the term ‘change management’ exists.
That said, Europeana´s excitement to learn and to share its learnings will benefit the other data spaces immensely. The Data Spaces Support Centre is very aware of the treasure the pre-existing data spaces bring to the table, and I have not seen any resistance to accepting, sharing and adapting best practices, ideas, and impulses. Europeana´s very solid approach to data governance and community engagement are just two aspects that come to my mind which the other data spaces will want to understand in depth and mimic. As we speak, we are setting up a working group on data governance with representatives of the Europeana Foundation and other data spaces. The Europeana Foundation will also contribute to the Data Spaces Symposium that will take place from 21-23 March in the Hague.
I invite you to join this event if you are curious to learn more about the DSSC and the data space ecosystem!