The power of data: how Helsinki is improving citizens’ lives

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.


  • By securely taking advantage of the power of data, authorities are helping residents in Finland’s capital city access the services they need.
  • This new approach separates the storage, anonymization and processing of data from all the tasks performed by individuals.
  • This data policy blueprint is being made available for other cities to use.

The impact.

The World Economic Forum and the Government of Finland, in collaboration with Edelman, Splunk and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, have developed a new approach to data management that will improve the way extremely sensitive data is used for the City of Helsinki.

The Finnish capital is pioneering when it comes to delivering services and accessibility. Collaborating with the Forum, the city authorities have developed an innovative blueprint for using the power of data and analytics to stay one step ahead and proactively improve the lives of residents.

Helsinki has been able to implement this blueprint to separate the storage, anonymization and processing of data from tasks performed by individuals. The objective was to safely provide all city residents with new, personalized and targeted services when they need them, reducing inefficiencies and bureaucracy.

This approach has radically simplified the process for parents of preschool-age children who are looking for care in suitable daycare centres across the city. In January 2021, over 5,500 families received text messages suggesting pre-primary education places for their children and nine out of ten families accepted the offer.

“The collaboration between the City of Helsinki and the World Economic Forum has offered us many opportunities to enhance the operations of our city and promote international cooperation and networking with key research organisations and companies.”— Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki (2017-2021)

https://cdn.jwplayer.com/players/r2Oyff5E-ncRE1zO6.html

What is the challenge?

Every day 500 million tweets are published, 294 billion emails sent and 720,000 hours of new YouTube content are created. The total data we create, capture, copy and consume is 59 zettabytes in a year – and it will keep on growing.

https://cdn.jwplayer.com/players/D4oPL74R-ncRE1zO6.html

New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, internet of things and the metaverse, demand data as the foundational resource for solving systemic challenges, from pandemic response to climate change. Yet despite an abundance of both supply and demand, the evolution from data to insight still presents many challenges.

On the one hand, data often remains siloed within territorial boundaries and corporate environments and is unavailable to benefit people, society and the planet. On the other, the type of governance needed to assure proper oversight, transparency and accountability by those using data is still being understood.

As the data universe expands, it becomes exponentially more complex, requiring solutions that integrate political, economic, social, environmental, technological and, most importantly, human aspects.

Our approach in leveraging the power of data.

Through its partnership with the City of Helsinki, the Forum has convened a global community of technologists, anthropologists and policy and data experts to develop data policy that serves the general public and meets their expectations.

“Throughout this partnership we were motivated to develop real tools for on-the-ground action because human-centric and society-serving approaches to data are not just a ‘nice to have’, but the foundation for thriving societies.”— Sebastian Buckup, Head of Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, World Economic Forum.

New processes and tools were created to document a best practice blueprint for services that effectively respond to what people need, which Helsinki will open-source for future use and improvement.

The main outcomes are outlined in the report, Empowered Data Societies: A Human-Centric Approach to Data Relationships:

1. The Helsinki process for utilizing personal data. A new management tool created to enable efficient data utilization. It defines stakeholders, roles, goals and tasks when harnessing data, from the introductory stages to setting up the data environment and sharing results.

2. The Helsinki personal data hybrid cloud architecture. A new technology-agnostic blueprint for a GDPR-compliant hybrid cloud. It offers a veil of anonymity for maximum data privacy during the processing of extremely sensitive data.

3. The Helsinki anonymizer. A collection of tools and practices for anonymization that are easy to adopt and can be used in a variety of projects.

4. The Helsinki data-based service staircase. A modular tool for project management aimed at developing public services. It provides a framework for enhancing services using data.

Helsinki process to understand the power of data
Balancing multistakeholder interests to build trust

Forging a way to create new data analytics capabilities for Helsinki has resulted in a new technical environment for treating sensitive personal data with the highest ethical, data protection and cybersecurity standards.

How can you get involved?

This initiative is led by the World Economic Forum Platform for Shaping the Future of Data Policy, which brings together government, business and civil society to shape the benefits of emerging technologies.

Businesses and governments are invited to join us to implement this work in their cities and countries and take advantage of the power of data.

Forum Partners working on the future of Data Policy engage with the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution which develops new approaches to technology adoption and governance, aiming to maximize the benefits and spread of technology applications while mitigating the risks.

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