Data Privacy MyData blog: How Sitra is inspiring a fair personal data economy in Finland

The Finnish innovation fund’s IHAN® project, which runs on MyData principles, has broad government and public support. Jaana Sinipuro, IHAN’s project director and Tiina Härkönen, the project’s leading specialist explain Sitra’s vision and work:

“We call ourselves a ‘think, do and connect tank’ and IHAN, which was originally a four-year project, is based around creating a fair data economy.

The Finnish government has been very active on open data, and the MyData movement is growing from that – a national evolution is going on as we see the need to be able to enrich traditional data sources. Because Finland is a small country, people, including academics, who are very excited about the topic can use their networks to spread the message.

Sitra’s role in Finnish society is quite special, because we are both independent and independently funded. We have a very good relationship with government ministries, but we are not politically dependent, so we can create our own agenda. A big part of this is working with the MyData community to help put data principles such as sharing, access, trust and innovation into practice.

We are now working on two different kinds of change. One is ‘master’ change, making citizens, companies and policymakers across Europe see the value of this new kind of data market and data sharing based on consent. We are also working on the capabilities side, new business models and our own test environment where technical solutions to support the vision can be developed.

The evolution of IHAN

The original idea for the IHAN project was to create a version of data sharing similar to the IBAN system in banking, which is an internationally agreed system of identifying bank accounts across national borders. We published a blueprint and wanted to showcase some use cases through pilots but realised quite a lot of identity wallets and domain-specific solutions already existed.

So we moved to funding independent projects and initiatives that were creating technical ‘fair data economy components’, creating small data-sharing ecosystems. We think it would be great if an asthmatic could get personal recommendations on good times to go out jogging, or personalised nutrition advice, through data marketplaces where developers and others can innovate with new services that use regulated and personal data from across different sectors.

Looking to the future

We are hoping to be an innovation hub, and there’s a very good buzz around the work we’re doing. We were able to promote our work while Finland held the EU presidency, but it’s still quite a domestic initiative and we need more international partners.

So next we want to scale up, to invite different companies across Europe to come and co-create and test and see if we can build a fair data ecosystem. It needs to be one that uses a common rule book or standard data sharing agreement, so we can say these are the ethical rules, these are the technical requirements that you need to take into consideration. And then innovate and build services on top of that. In June, we are launching our IHAN Test bed, where we invite developers and businesses to create, test and view new, innovative services which follow the fair data economy principles.

While the developer community around Europe is very important to us, we also need to work with more businesses and are planning an SME programme to help companies understand the data they have in their existing businesses, or when planning new ones.

Many people and companies are very committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and we would like to make data responsibility and data transparency an official part of CSR. There’s an ethical framework for investing, but so far nothing for data governance, although this is something we are working towards with dozens of innovative Finnish companies in our 2020 workshop series.

We believe strongly that sustainable and transparent data usage will become a competitive advantage.

In Finland, we are working with some trailblazing companies who are already publishing their data assets, and trying to be transparent on consumer data. They are good examples, but it is not widespread. We need to have large companies which want to build an ecosystem around their data, which will show that the speed of innovation is better if you have different types of data providers in your ecosystems, and then the willingness to share data will also increase. The personal data economy will change if we have enough companies that think differently and see the potential of being ‘fair’.

Fundamentally, the whole data economy needs to be redefined. We’re having regular meetings with, for example, Gartner analysts, and they are saying that this platform economy was just an interim phase, that it’s moving towards more decentralised ecosystems for data sharing. This shift is happening partly because consumers are losing trust, which was supported by the findings of our own citizen survey in December 2018, and so we think there is good momentum behind our work and vision.”

  • To join or help build Sitra’s “fair data ecosystem” or the SME programme please get in touch via or visit the Sitra website.