Secure Data Sharing for Sustainable Urban Development: Off to the Data Space?

A data room can be used for design and management in many cities

Whether it’s reducing emissions by adjusting traffic lights or providing citizens with early warnings in the event of environmental disasters: Digitization offers cities and regions almost infinite creative possibilities for sustainable urban design through the self-determined and strategic use of urban data. Theoretically. If it weren’t for the old hurdles when it comes to sovereign and secure data exchange. Particularly between government offices, municipal businesses and service providers, data exchange is usually severely restricted and often occurs spontaneously as well as unorganized. A new approach will soon provide a tool for easy data sharing for urban actors: the data room.

“Especially the administration has concerns about sharing data for urban design projects with other organizations. After all, it’s often sensitive information that the wrong hands can do a lot with. And that gets in the way of sustainable innovation in many places,” says Alanus von Radecki, CEO at DKSR. That’s because transferring data across organizational boundaries often makes sense and is necessary to fully exploit the potential of data – for example, if a municipality wants to quickly use sensor data from vehicles for a local heavy rainfall warning via the city app. If the car company wants to share the desired data, it must be able to guarantee that no information will fall into the wrong hands after being made available. And perhaps, in return, the company wants to know from the city how many citizens are using the service via the city app – for which the public sector, for its part, must certainly provide data. At the same time, each of the parties wants to keep track of who is doing what with the data they have provided.

The Data Space solution as an answer to these challenges has so far been more theory than practice. DKSR now wants to implement it. But what do we actually mean by a data room?

For more sustainable innovation: forward into the data space

Data Space: Sounds pretty outlandish to smart city stakeholders who are not completely blind to the business at hand. The German translation of “Datenräume” (data spaces) doesn’t make it any better – and definitions such as those from the expert Boris Otto of the Fraunhofer ISST seem very abstract in their scientific nature for the non-Boris Otto average citizen.

The most important thing in an attempt at a tangible summary:

  • Data spaces are technological architectures through which data from different sources are not merged – but left at their source despite being provided by different organizations in one space. There is no fixed target structure.
  • This is achieved by sharing only metadata (i.e., information about the data) where the data itself lies behind a usage restriction.
  • Through a uniform structure and uniform terms, the data room creates a uniform understanding of the data among all systems involved.
  • Data spaces are nested within themselves and can overlap. Data that exists there can therefore also exist in duplicate and triplicate.

Data rooms also usually have authentication options to identify the parties involved – and thus provide an anchor of trust for everyone as to who they are really dealing with.

Still a concept or already tried and tested?

The International Data Spaces (IDS) initiative is driving the use of data spaces forward on the basis of a reference architecture model, a kind of ideal model for data space architectures to be built in the future, which twelve institutes of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft have jointly developed.  The Mobility Data Space, which has been offering a data room as an exchange location for around 200 mobility companies since January 2022, is also built on this.

In other words, data spaces with a focus on mobility are already a reality in the business world. In other words, you can’t touch them directly, but you can experience what they are used for. The benefits of this can be seen in mobility apps, for example, which can thus obtain data such as from e-scooters, rental cars, and cabs, link them together, and process and display them for users to make getting around in a city or region as fast and convenient as possible.

The crux of the matter for intelligent urban design is that the whole thing has so far only been designed for industry and exchange between companies. As far as easy-to-use data spaces for the public sector with a focus on different areas and a mere interface to the private sector are concerned, there is currently no such thing: Where is data from health, environment and other areas linked for better public services in municipalities? At the same time, there is as yet no space that enables municipalities to exchange data in a protected manner, even at the local level, and provides the assurance that valuable personal information units are not directly monetized and commercially exploited. Paradoxically, however, it is precisely such data spaces that are needed to make data from a wide variety of organizations usable across the board: So that everyone can pull together to meet the challenges of the 21st century and create sustainable smart living spaces for citizens.

Secure use of the entire range of data 

And this is where the partnership between Fraunhofer FOKUS’s piveau project and DKSR with its Open Urban Data Platform comes into play. Among other things, the data management ecosystem piveau offers an open source data portal that is available to the administration for managing data. “Similar to data platforms, data portals serve the purpose of making data usable. Unlike the DKSR platform, the focus here is more on non-real-time data – this can be a wide variety of static data on investments, construction projects, water, waste and much more,” explains Jens Klessmann, head of the responsible department at Fraunhofer FOKUS. “The portals give citizens access to important information about their city or municipality in the most transparent way possible. One of piveau’s customers is the European Union. It manages data with the support of technology via the official European data portal.

The partnership with piveau now adds an essential component to DKSR’s data platform approach: where the DKSR platform previously “only” processed real-time data, cities and regions can now additionally tap into the entire space of non-real-time data for municipal processing.

“In practical terms, this means much greater scope for analysis and significantly more options for specific use cases,” says data usage expert Klessmann. “For example, when static data on the location of trees, so-called tree cadastres, are linked with near-real-time weather and sensor data to optimize irrigation systems via apps or more efficient routes for irrigation vehicles.”

Next stop: Data space for sovereign smart cities

And what does the partnership have to do with data spaces? Simply explained: The combination of data portal and platform offers even more possibilities – it becomes an instrument for the management of urban data spaces. For example, after linking via a module, the architectures of both platforms are supplemented by a comprehensive roles and rights concept. Based on this, data can be processed jointly between the city, administration, municipal operations and service providers: self-determined, traceable and without data falling into the wrong hands. “In this way, we are providing a simple and legally secure framework for a completely new innovative capability of municipal actors. And along the way, we can help municipalities make as much data as possible publicly available in accordance with the Data Use Act,” says von Radecki, who is visibly pleased about the collaboration. “The next development phase of the project will start soon – and we are full of beans!”

All the benefits of the piveau data portal can already be used via DKSR – information on the service can be found here. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at any time!