Data and digital innovation are vital for achieving public value, sustainable development goals, and tackling climate change, poverty and exclusion.
In Finland, we speak of human-centric data economy, and you might wonder, why? It is because we believe that the critical raw material is not data as such, but trust, which is the prerequisite for extracting, sharing, utilising, re-using and refining data. Fostering trust and transparency is the most important task of the government. Trust between citizens and government, as well as between the public and private sectors.
In Finland, we have a strong public-private collaboration in all matters digital. The Ministry of Transport and Communication, for instance, has provided frequencies to telecom operators practically for free, and also bandwidth for testing and R&D, which in turn has fostered fierce competition in innovative services and low prices for flat-fee mobile data, which has further resulted in high penetration of smartphones, even among senior citizens.
Cooperation between different stakeholders is vital
This pattern was in place when, due to COVID-19, we suddenly needed tools and practices for massive scale e-work, e-school and e-family gatherings. The virtuous circle begins with government smart regulation, is enhanced by businesses’ competition over innovation, and produces societally beneficial outcomes.
As always with evolving technology, the outcomes as such are often not foreseeable. This leaves room for spillovers and serendipity, which are extremely valuable in instances such as COVID-19.
You need to have a general direction, the right public-private design and also public and private services on same or similar platforms. This enforces trust by reliability. People feel that the tax authority and local public transport company provide competent digital services, and volunteer to give their valuable data in return.
Trust is a two-way street
It is obvious that trust in data safety, privacy and security correlates with trust in your government in general. The success of Koronavilkku, the coronavirus contact tracing app is a case in point. When active in your Bluetooth smartphone, it tells you whether you have been exposed to the virus. Moreover, if you are tested positive, you can share this information anonymously with your contacts. More than half of the adult population use the app and 80 % of the users who have been infected have reported it through the app. The solution is based on privacy; data is distributed only by explicit consent. But again, you need to trust the service and the service provider.
In Finland, most taxpayers do not compile a tax return. All data of income and deductions is gathered automatically from several sources and the vast majority of people will just give their consent. If something needs to be corrected, tax rates for example, three out of four customers use digital services to do so.
Trust is a two-way street. Everyone is by default treated as an honest taxpayer. Receipts and documents are not inspected. AI algorithms can spot anomalies from the data stream.
Trust – one of the most valuable intangible assets
When wealth of nations is calculated, we never take trust into account. It is hard to quantify, but I would say it is a critical factor of production, key component of the Trust Economy. It is self-evident that trust needs to be fostered and safeguarded. Security is crucial. Carelessness with data will produce dire and long-term consequences.
We have a great opportunity ahead of us. As we recover from the pandemic, we can rebuild our data models as human-centric and empowering. This is something we will inspect and hopefully detect in our Empowered Data societies project together with the city of Helsinki, Ministry of Transport and Communication and the World Economic Forum.
Minister of Transport and Communications
Minister Harakka spoke at the World Economic Forum Shaping Empowered Data Societies session 28 January 2021.