What are Data Spaces

Introduction to European Data Spaces

As relevance of data grows every year, the European Commission bet for the development of data spaces, envisioned as of strategic importance for the growth of the European data economy. The aim is to enable and stimulate the development of Data Value Chains, keeping sovereignty and trustworthiness under European premises and values.

As presented in the Communication of the European Commission in February 2020, “A European strategy for data”, the vision is to create single markets of data, called “Common European Data Spaces”, where personal as well as non-personal data, including sensitive business data:

  • Can flow within the EU and across sectors;
  • Are secure and handled under the EU laws and relevant norms;
  • Can be accessed and used according to fair, practical, and clear rules.

The Big Data Value Association (BDVA-DAIRO) considers the European Data Spaces as a high-impact opportunity for years to come, since it “gives Europe the possibility to assume a prominent position steering international efforts to develop data and AI solutions that reflect and respect European ethical values including democracy, privacy protection, and equality”.

“But what is a Data Space?”

In a concise and easy to understand language, a Data Space is defined by Open DEI as “a decentralised infrastructure for trustworthy data sharing and exchange in data ecosystems, based on commonly agreed principles”.

Gaia-X defines it as a “a type of data relationship between trusted partners who adhere to the same high standards and guidelines when it comes to data storage and sharing”. Furthermore and probably the most distinctive characteristic of a data space is that “data are not stored centrally, but rather at the source and are thus only transferred as necessary” 1. This decentralised nature allows actors to keep the sovereignty on data.
1 https://gaia-x.eu/what-is-gaia-x/core-elements/data-spaces/

The key features, as stated by the European Commission, are:

  • A secure and privacy-preserving infrastructure to pool, access, share, process and use data.
  • A clear and practical structure for access to and use of data in a fair, transparent, proportionate and/non-discriminatory manner, and clear and trustworthy data governance mechanisms.
  • Adherence to European rules and values, in particular personal data protection, consumer protection legislation and competition law.
  • Data holders retain the control of their data, being able to grant access to or to share certain personal or non-personal data.
  • Data that is made available can be reused against compensation, including remuneration, or for free.
  • Participation of an open number of organisations/ individuals.

These features are usually organised around three types of building blocks:

  • Data platforms – supporting data sharing and exchange;
  • Data marketplaces – supporting data offering and data request; and
  • Data sovereignty – supporting data flows control and governance

Each of these building blocks integrate several components, which differ depending on each specific implementation (see below).

“Are there multiple Data Spaces, or just one?”

As an emerging paradigm, there are currently a total of 9 different Data Spaces that will be developed with the support of the European Commission: the so-called Common European Data Spaces. All of them have their unique features and guidelines, which depend on the targeted sector. However, they are not exclusive, so an organisation can be interested and of course be part of multiple Data Spaces.

Apart from the Common European Data Spaces, there are several private data space initiatives, supported by multiple organisations and mostly devoted to engaging with stakeholders among specific sectors. If you want to know more about them, make sure to visit the International Data Spaces Association’s radar of emerging initiatives and Gaia-X’s Lighthouse Projects.

If you want to join a data space, the general procedure will involve applying for membership and deploying the infrastructure required to participate.

“Which is the current state of Data Spaces?“

Data spaces are still in early stages, with a myriad of initiatives architecting frameworks and identifying use cases that will precede generalised adoption. Central objectives of the emerging initiatives are related to building frameworks, standardisation, convergence, the development of needed building blocks, and compliance to existing regulation. REACH incubator believes that a generalised adoption of data spaces will help to tackle the main barriers identified by data experts and startups in our interviews, especially the ones related with data trustworthiness, interoperability and governance.

Currently, the data spaces ecosystem is facing one of the most critical phases for its success, the convergence of ideas, initiatives and definitions into accepted standards proposed in a integrative way; the biggest stepping stone for achieving those objectives thus far is the formation of the Data Spaces Business Alliance, a thriving initiative uniting stakeholders from key forums: the Big Data Value Association (BDVA/DAIRO), FIWARE Foundation, Gaia-X European Association for Data and Cloud AISBL, and the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA).

Estabilshed in September 2021, the Alliance is created to drive the adoption of data spaces across Europe:

  • One voice and a common framework to make data spaces happen;
  • Bringing together data providers, users and intermediaries, data spaces are key to driving businesses to competitively extract value out of data;
  • Together, the Alliance’s founding organisations represent 1,000+ leading key industry players, associations, research organisations, innovators, and policy-makers worldwide;
  • With its combined cross-industry expertise, resources and know-how, the Alliance drives awareness, evangelises technology, shapes standards and enables integration across industries.

The Alliance is working together in three major areas:

  • Technology and architecture – The Alliance defines a common reference model, based on existing architectures and models, leveraging each other’s efforts on infrastructure and implementations. It drives interoperability by harmonising technology components and other elements.
  • Support – The Alliance assists the existing organisations and data spaces by pooling their tools, resources and expertise in a focused way. The support includes handbooks, roadmaps, individual evolution plans, access to Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs), acceleration programmes etc. and includes a go-to-market toolkit to make data spaces happen.
  • Identification and characterisation – The Alliance establishes a ‘Data Spaces Radar’ to actively scout potential data spaces. It provides a unique overview on data spaces evolution on a global level, thanks to an enormous network and unprecedented expertise. The Alliance also promotes frontrunners and identifies best practices used by them, for the benefit of all.

“Where can I learn more?“

If you are interested in learning more about data spaces, we recommend you to have a look at the European Commission’s European Strategy for Data, to better understand the medium and long-term strategy. And for more specific details about how the different stakeholders are working on tackling current challenges, we provide you some starting points:

If you are interested in current technical developments, you can check and contribute to the development of dataspace connectors, a crucial software for enabling data exchange among data space users. As starting point: