March 23, 2023

From Digitizing the European Industry (project OpenDEI) to the Data Spaces Support Centre: a clear path to the emergence of cross-sectoral European data spaces

The coordinating and support action “OpenDEI” (Open Digitizing European Industry) has laid the foundation for pan-European data spaces that are compatible and interoperable from the moment they are implemented. With its roots in the former European strategy to digitize the European industry, the project generated a framework of all the available building blocks needed to accomplish this task.

These results – 12 building blocks in the areas “Trust”, “Data Value”, “Interoperability” and “Governance” as fundamental ingredients of universal design principles for data spaces – have been handed over to the Data Spaces Support Center (DSSC) so that the consensus based groundwork can be complied into what we can think of as a blueprint for data spaces: a toolbox providing all the components needed for cross-domain data spaces to take root in the EU data economy.

In this article, we want to look at these assets in greater detail, with a keen eye on the Design Principles for Data Spaces and the catalog of building blocks it contains, and the blueprint itself as it emerges from these comprehensive resources.

OpenDEI Task Force 1

For this, we’re going to listen carefully to two key protagonists in the data space story: Mike de Roode, from TNO, who has been deeply involved in the establishment of the DSSC; and Silvia Castellvi, the representative of IDSA’s OpenDEI Task Force 1 who knows in detail how the key assets developed by the task force – the Design Principles for Data Spaces position paper and the Building Blocks Assessment – provide the guidelines for minimum behavioral framework implementation for data spaces considering OpenDEI building blocks.

One of the challenges facing European data spaces is the sheer diversity of the data economy. So far, 15 data spaces have been investigated, spanning all domains. While each of these domains has its own requirements and approaches to data spaces, it will be counterproductive to attempt to accommodate them all, for example with 15 different kinds of data spaces. Interoperability, after all, is non-negotiable. What we need, as Mike de Roode says, is:

“… one common story so that parties know what a data space is, not only in terms of the technology, but also in terms of governance and legal frameworks. There has to be transparency, which means providing an open-source solution that explains everything you might need for your data space, and which, if you know what you need, will tell you which types of companies you need to approach, and whether there are already open-source building blocks available for your purposes. This is how we will ensure interoperability.”

Mike de Roode, Consultant Data Ecosystems at TNO

Design Principles for Data Spaces

The need for transparency and interoperability was a key driver for OpenDEI Task Force 1’s activities. Lead by IDSA, the task force leveraged the expertise of data spaces and OPEN DEI ecosystem experts, synergizing their diverse knowledge-sharing backgrounds to co-create a position paper: Design Principles for Data Spaces. As Sylvia Castellvi laid out at the OpenDEI final event, the Task Force smashed their KPIs: the paper has been tremendously successful, having been downloaded some 2500 times, and presented at over 400 events in the last year alone.

Chapter two of the paper describes a broad range of general building blocks that enable the technical, business, operational, and organizational capabilities of data spaces. The task force achieved this by cataloging existing building blocks and experience, and by listening to the requirements and feedback from experts and others who have implemented data spaces in their own ways. It was then a question of defining the parameters of the current activities of these data spaces and establishing the common archetypes.

A Blueprint for Data Spaces

As a high-level map of universal and fundamental ingredients data spaces are composed of, chapter two of the position paper enabled the creation of the task force’s second asset: the Building Blocks Assessment. This asset goes into detail about the building blocks’ definitions and technologies, and how they enable data spaces to exist across domains. Collaborating with domain-specific initiatives and organizations in the health, manufacturing, energy and agricultural domain, common denominators have been identified. In sum, the assessment redefines and clarifies the components of the data spaces by focusing separately on each building block, with the aim of introducing the reader to data sharing and its benefits.

Evolving from the OpenDEI project and keeping the core experts, the Data Spaces Support Centre has been launched in 2022 – widening the scope to all industries and domains including more societal perspectives. Working closely with the OPEN DEI consortium, the DSSC has embraced and brought together an even bigger European-wide community of associate partners, with the purpose of connecting data-space initiatives to an open structure which allows anyone to boot requirements. In effect, as Mike remarked at the OpenDEI final event, the DSSC will act as a data spaces help desk, while also ensuring the level of interoperability that will make secure, sovereign data sharing across domains so compelling.

Mike painted a clear picture of the deliverables DSSC will offer. One of these is the data spaces blueprint. Emerging from the Design Principles for Data Spaces Position Paper and the Building Block Assessment, the blueprint is a comprehensive framework containing but amending and detailing the OpenDEI building blocks, and combining everything you need to set up a data space. As a one-stop-resource-shop, it will also ensure interoperability between various domains, answering such questions as: Which building blocks are required in our case? or how can we certify our data space?

A heartbeat for the European data economy

The DSSC will release the latest insights into governance frameworks and technologies to the community every six months. In fact, the first of these ‘heartbeats’ has already come out: the ‘Starter Kit for Data Space Designers’. This is basically an early version of the data spaces blueprint – a data spaces 101 – which defines data spaces, shows parties where to start and where they can get help, and provides them with a checklist of requirements for their data space – including the types of technical and non-technical building blocks they need – and a catalog of the considerable resources already available.

On that note, it’s important to remember that at the conceptual data spaces level, there are already a lot of resources out there. In the field of data spaces we are confronted with an extremely diverse network of stakeholders, including domain-specific data spaces themselves, of course, but also other initiatives ranging from formal standardization initiatives to the planned Data Innovation Board, which is still in development, and the many European funded and industry driven projects which will be started once they have developed their technical infrastructure. All of these add both complexity and opportunity to the challenge.

A wealth of knowledge and experience

Thus, at least as far as defining the generic capabilities needed to set up a data space, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience to hand. The intention of the data spaces blueprint, however, is to give orientation, pool any kind of available knowledge and provide actual technical and functional specifications – a Yellow Pages of technical components – specifying, for example, which implementations are open source or commercial, or what compatibility exists to ensure interoperability.

If an entity wants to participate in the burgeoning Europe data economy, they simply can’t do it alone. With the assets we’ve explored today, they now have access to the components and support they need to unlock the value of their data, sharing it across domains with the certifications and standards they need to ensure data sovereignty and interoperability.

This is how, from the Design Principles for Data Spaces, through the Building Blocks Assessment, the Data Spaces Support Center and the Blueprint for Data Spaces, we can trace a clear path to the emergence of European data spaces which both capitalize on the diversity of their participants, and operate securely according to one common story.

Join the community of data experts and enthusiasts by reaching out to the DSSC – whether you seek support, collaboration or just want to stay informed about the latest developments in the field. Visit to learn more.

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