Digital conference on the transformative power of data – that was Transform 2020

“Trust is the key between authorities among each other vertically and horizontally, but also among citizens* and business towards authorities”, said Dr. Alessia Neuroni, co-host of Transform2020. It is also the quintessence of a day of intensive professional exchange on data use in the public sector with more than 80 participants from politics, research and public authorities.Read a review with a short summary of the presentations here.

Open Data: Lessons from the crisis

Andreas Amsler

The Covid19 pandemic has driven the digitisation of Zurich’s administration, said Andreas Amsler, head of the OGD technical and coordination office, Canton Zurich. This not only concerns the data of the crisis but also its impact on public transport and the economy, he said. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a great need for coherent, up-to-date data from official sources. Most of this public data was already available in other countries, but not yet in Switzerland. “We were under a lot of pressure at the beginning,” recalls Amsler. Data on new infections were quickly published in the spring, but there was no history. Therefore, the Canton of Zurich built an open data structure based on international standards and continuously improved it. “We act as a mediator between municipalities and cantons and intensify contacts and exchange between authorities, public organisations, science and the media,” Amsler explains. The open principle improves the data in the long term. Because: “Many eyes see more”, so do errors, which can then be corrected. Amsler and his team use the github tool for this. This way, they can “do less together”, he says. You can find Andreas Amsler’s presentation here.

Data Governance in a Swiss Data Space

André Golliez

André Golliez, President of the Swiss Data Alliance, spoke about the data governance principles in the Swiss Data Space. “The term data room is slowly establishing itself in European data strategy as well,” Golliez said happily. In Switzerland, the term has also finally arrived, said Golliez, referring to the Federal Digital Strategy adopted in September and the Federal Digital Foreign Policy Strategy adopted last week. The starting point for the data is the data beneficiaries, i.e. suppliers, users and affected individuals and companies. Golliez sees the data platforms, which are in principle monopolists, as a major challenge. According to Golliez, the antithesis to this is a trustworthy data space that places data exchange at the centre and imposes rights and obligations on all participants. Data spaces can have different legal or technical forms. A collection of different data exchange structures that are networked among each other and connect to form a common space – that is Golliez’s vision of a Swiss data space. Sectoral structures are already emerging and others are planned. For the future, however, a national data strategy is needed – “we don’t have that yet”, says Golliez. Of course, interoperability beyond national borders is also necessary and data-based innovations are needed. “The pandemic opened our eyes to the importance of data in managing such a crisis,” Golliez stressed. From this experience, one could learn that if all sectors make their data accessible, the population can also help to solve the crisis better. André Golliez’s presentation can be found here.

Data governance in the education sector

Andreas Klausing

Andreas Klausing, member of the executive board of, spoke about the digital education space in Switzerland. In addition to data protection, the needs of stakeholders are the most important issues in the development of a Swiss digital education ecosystem. Currently, educa is preparing a study on data use policy, which will be launched in spring. The goal is “a safe and ethically appropriate handling of data in the education system and its targeted use,” says Klausner. The time horizon is 2025, and it is not the technical implementation that is a challenge. Rather, the most important and biggest work, according to Klausing, is in communication with the stakeholders and in knowledge transfer. This is mainly due to Switzerland’s federalist structure. This is why Switzerland often lags behind in large national projects. The presentation by Andreas Klausing can be found here

National data management

Manuela Lenk

Manuela Lenk, head of the Interoperability and Registers Division at the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), explained how data is managed at the federal level, especially master data. She suggested thinking in terms of a value chain when collecting data. Digital data collection has transformed the Federal Office. That is why the Federal Office is very interested in collecting and managing good data in the administrations. Among other things, the once-only principle is very helpful. Interoperability is also needed so that data can be used more than once. For this purpose, the Confederation has developed an interoperability platform that harmonises the data and only collects standardised metadata; the original data remain with the administrations. With the common master data management, the Confederation also wants to reduce the administrative burden for citizens and companies (once-only principle). You can find Manuela Lenk’s presentation here.

Trust in Technology: A Philosophical Consideration

Dr. Janina Loh

The philosopher of technology Dr. Janina Loh from the University of Vienna closes the conference with her philosophical appreciation of the topic of trust. From a philosophical point of view, she said, trust is an intermediate concept in which one does not know everything about a situation, but at the same time retains a positive attitude that something can work. This is based on human judgement in an uncertain situation. Loh also goes into the philosophical work of Hannah Arendt’s theory of action. You can find Dr. Janina Loh’s presentation here.

Tool versus working technique

Dr. Jörg Mäder

“So far we are not using all the technical possibilities of digitalisation,” said Dr. Jörg Mäder National Councillor of the Green Liberals in the Canton of Zurich in his opening speech. “At the moment, we are still in the mode of mountains of files and we need a lot of specialised expertise to understand the volumes of data,” he explained. Mäder used the example of Lego bricks to illustrate that a common language is needed. It is important to understand the entire data knowledge not as a unit, but as individual building blocks. Then it would be possible to use the individual data components for different applications, as with Lego. Mäder advocated playing more with these building blocks. Despite all the exciting applications that can be programmed from the data, important rules must be observed, such as data protection and privacy, Mäder appealed. He also suggests using already developed building blocks, because standards are grown and tested constructs. The presentation by Jörg Mäder can be found here.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Riedl

Under the title “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, Prof. Dr. Reinhard Riedl, head of the BFH Centre Digital Society, spoke about data use. “We need lighthouse projects with great charisma and trigger other creative projects,” he said. Big Data, he said, is a tool that provides clues as to where to look for new insights. In practice, it is first used to filter out the usable data. In other words, algorithms crystallise the good data. This can be used to support facts, build models and create interpretations. The goal is data-based organisational management. For it to really work, 4 principles apply:

  • Information principle
  • Flow principle
  • Quality principle
  • Legality principle

Data delivers much more than classical statistics if we work with serious tools. Riedl identifies 4 possibilities for the new use of data:

  • 1. Digital twins
  • 2. Augmented Intelligence
  • 3. Artificial Creativity
  • 4. Causality test.

Many people are afraid of artificial intelligence. But Riedl gave encouragement: “Artificial intelligence can take automated work off our hands and ultimately change the work process in a positive way.” Under “the Good” in the use of data he sees the potential benefits, under “the Bad” the possible misuse and under “the Ugly” the false play with fears and hopes. “More education is needed,” Riedl concluded his exciting lecture. You can find Dr Reinhard Riedl’s presentation here.

La donnée au centre de l’innovation

Lausanne also uses data for innovation. Jean-Daniel Schlaeppy, Head of Department and Digital Processing Assistant for the City of Lausanne, reported on the practical applications. You can findhis presentation here.


Barbara Ubaldi

In her presentation, Barbara Ubaldi of the OECD, Digital Government Lead focused on the state of development of governments. So far, she said, governments are very often in a reactive position, waiting and reacting to requests. The Covid19 pandemic has driven the transformation of public administration and slowly governments are turning into active players. A lot of data is emerging from the health crisis to drive transformation and public administrations are realising the key potential of data. Outside the pandemic, Ubaldi cited Japan, Finland, Korea and France as pioneers in this development: data generates public value. She presented the OECD’s framework for governance development. First, there needs to be leadership with a vision and the ability to implement data use. Then there needs to be data architecture and infrastructure, and finally regulation to protect its use. In order to gain the trust of the population, questions of security, ethics, transparency and data protection must successfully interact, Ubaldi emphasised. She sees the biggest challenges for governments in clarity, necessary capacity, history and leadership. Barbara Ubaldi’s presentation can be found here.

Data for good? Experiment!

How successful data use looks like in the Netherlands was described by Dr. Anne Fleur van Veenstra, head of the Policy Lab of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research. She presented applied experiments. You can find Anne Fleur van Veenstra’s presentation here.

About Transform 2020

Transform 2020 took place on 13 November 2020 and was co-organised by the Institute Public Sector Transformation (IPST), the Institute Digital Enabling and the BFH Centre Digital Society and supported by the IPST partners and the Swiss Data Alliance All further information on the conference can be found here.

Thanks to the partners of Transform 2020

Cover photo: Andreas Amsler

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AUTHOR: Anne-Careen Stoltze

Anne-Careen Stoltze is Editor in Chief of the science magazine SocietyByte and Host of the podcast "Let's Talk Business". She works in communications at BFH Business School, she is a journalist and geologist.

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