The potential and development of data spaces

Today, businesses and individuals alike generate, process, and use an immense amount of data, which is estimated to continue to grow globally from 64.2 zettabytes in 2020 to an estimated approximately 180 zettabytes in 2025 (Taylor 2022).

However, then as now, the global data economy is dominated by individual companies, the so-called BigTechs such as Alphabet, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft (The Economist 2017). One way to realize data exchange and data use apart from the monopolistic BigTechs is based on the concept of trusted data spaces. Various data space projects are already developing in Switzerland in areas such as mobility (NADIM), tourism (NADIT), health (EPD) and education (Edulog).

But what exactly are data spaces and how do they work? This blog post addresses this question and shows a possible target image for data spaces in Switzerland from the perspective of the Business Engineering Institute St. Gallen (BEI).

What are data spaces?

According to the report “Creation of trusted data spaces based on digital self-determination” (DETEC and FDFA 2022) adopted by the Swiss Federal Council, a data space is an organizational and technical structure that connects data users and data providers and ensures access, processing, sharing and use of data. The roles of data users and data providers in a data space can be performed by different stakeholders such as individuals, but also companies or the public sector.

The technical basis of a data space is realized by a data infrastructure consisting of technical and physical components. This technical infrastructure aligns data supply and data demand, enabling data to be used and accessed via standardized interfaces. The organization of a data space is in turn mapped by a governance structure. This regulates the roles, rights and obligations of the actors acting in the space as well as the framework conditions applicable to data use. The governance structure is defined by data space ownerships, which can be taken by companies or the public sector, for example (DETEC and FDFA 2022). The following figure depicts a data space with the associated roles in a typical model.

Figure 1: Model of a typical data space, source: translated from DETEC and FDFA (2022), graphic 3, p. 18.
Target image for the emergence of trusted data spaces in Switzerland

In order for data spaces to be accepted and used by the population as well as by companies in their roles as data users and data providers, it is necessary for the roles acting in the space to cooperate on the basis of free, fair and ethical regulations as well as trustworthy processes and infrastructures (see also Golliez 2020).

Trusted data spaces as a special form of data space enable the digital self-determination of individuals on the basis of the fundamental principles of transparency, control, fairness, accountability and efficiency. In this context, the participants in the data space make their data available at their own will and with the necessary control and determine in a self-determined manner the purpose for which their data is used (FDFA and OFCOM 2023).

Trusted data spaces help to unlock the full potential of data by enabling and promoting the exchange and use of data between individuals, businesses and the public sector. This enables the targeted addressing of economic and societal needs.

From the BEI’s point of view, for the widespread adoption of trusted data spaces, the needs of data users and data providers must be taken into account due to the ever-increasing use of data and the advancement of technological trends. In addition, data spaces should represent dynamically evolving decentralized trust networks that connect different ecosystem areas across the board along the underlying use cases. Data spaces must be organized in a decentralized manner so that individual actors do not establish a monopolistic position of power and thus jeopardize the inherent concept of self-determination in trusted data spaces. In addition, interoperability with existing data spaces must be ensured, for example by developing underlying standards across national borders in an international context, so that Switzerland’s international connectivity is also ensured. The following figure outlines the target image of trusted data spaces as a decentralized trust network from the Business Engineering Institute St. Gallen’s perspective.

Figure 2: Target image of trusted data spaces as a decentralized trust network from the BEI’s point of view
Ongoing work in the context of data spaces

Since the initial idea from the “Digital Switzerland” strategy of September 11, 2020, it has been a goal of the federal administration to promote the establishment and operation of trusted data spaces for its citizens (Federal Council 2020).

To support this goal, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) are developing a “Code of Conduct for the Operation of Trusted Data Spaces Based on Digital Self-Determination”. There, the model of trustworthy data spaces is propagated by pointing out behaviors to be observed by the actors operating in the space. These are based on the basic principles of digital self-determination described above (FDFA and OFCOM 2023).

In parallel to the design of the Code of Conduct, the Business Engineering Institute St.Gallen, in collaboration with the University of Lausanne and the FDFA, is developing a brief study to identify the needs of individuals in Switzerland with regard to the sharing and use of data in data spaces and their design. From the Business Engineering Institute St. Gallen’s point of view the created needs analysis from the perspective of the individuals forms only a part of the overall concept for the creation of a target image for trustworthy data spaces. Based on this foundation, the views of business representatives and, in parts, of the public sector, especially of cantons and municipalities, are still missing in order to elicit their role-specific requirements in a second project phase and to combine them into an overall target picture.

This work supports the broader realization of the potential from data by promoting broad data sharing and more diverse and extensive data use in a trusted environment.


DETEC and FDFA (2022). Creation of trusted data spaces based on digital self-determination., retrieved on: 12.06.2023.

FDFA and OFCOM (2023). Code of Conduct for the Operation of Trusted Data Spaces Based on Digital Self-Determination, Draft Version 1.0.

Federal Council (2020). Digital Switzerland Strategy., 12.06.2023.

Golliez, A. (2020). What are data spaces and why do we need them? Netzwoche. 07.12.2020., retrieved on: 12.06.2023.

Taylor, P. (2022). Volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide from 2010 to 2020, with forecasts from 2021 to 2025. Statista. 09/08/2022, retrieved on: 12.06.2023.

The Economist (2017). The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. 07.05.2017., retrieved on: 12.06.2023.

Nick Kakuschke
Thomas Zerndt
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