Today sharing information is easier than ever, thanks to internet, social media and different kinds of cloud services. At the same time the amount of information available is increasing continuously. However, the information in itself is not the key. What counts, is how the information is utilized and interpreted.
The Council of Tampere Region has many years of experience in compiling and preparing the Situational Picture of Innovation that provides up-to-date information on innovation activities in the Tampere Region and creates a basis for the planning of the region’s own strategic innovation policy and for decision-making. The process is also utilized as a monitoring tool of the region’s smart specialization strategy. One of the focuses in the strategy for smart specialization is circular economy.
In 2017, the Situational Picture included for the first time an examination of bio- and circular economy. However, the examination was mainly based on expert assessments rather than on numeric and statistic data. Monitoring circular economy has been challenging since the concept is expansive and information on all of its areas is not yet available.
In the beginning of 2017 the Council started a pre-commercial procurement, covering the creation of a concept of circular economy ecosystem tool, development of the prototype and piloting of the tool. The tool procured was expected to offer real-time analysis and visualizations of circular economy and its actors. The development process has been part of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region funded BSR Stars S3 project.
The aim of the process was to develop a tool combining ecosystem thinking with the circular economy. The ecosystem thinking is gaining ground in innovation policy, as new ideas are refined into products and services increasingly often through interaction between multiple actors operating in interaction. The piloting of the ecosystem tool, developed with Finnish software company Dexmen, started in June 2018.
The objectives of the development process were ambitious and driven by the vision of getting beyond the traditional statistics and information sources as well as the dream of enriching the information management processes with modern tools and resources. New information has been explored, for example, by utilizing the material provided in the circular economy actors’ web pages and different registers. One key element of the process has been creating an algorithm based on circular economy related keywords in order to recognize potential circular economy actors.
From the Council’s point of view the process has been an instructive journey to the world of software development as well as to the world of open and big data. There were many questions to be answered from the beginning of the process. How to define the concept of circular economy since circular economy is understood in different ways in different contexts? How to find and define the actors of circular economy? What data sources can be find, how to evaluate their reliability and how to weight data collected from different sources?
The development process included hours of discussing and debating these questions among many others. One lesson learnt has been that the world of open data and big data might not be as straightforward as one might think. To begin with it is not something to be taken for granted that the existing, relevant data is available and in machine-readable form. In many cases data is still protected. Finding the relevant data and gaining access to it is only the beginning.
The data collected from different sources is in its primary form and as such it still requires a lot of work. In order to transform the data into usable format the requirements for the data need to be carefully elaborated: what operations and what kind of analysis is to be done with the data? When the amount of utilized data sets rises the need for different programming solutions and data processing is likely to grow. In order to make the different data sets combinable the structures and classifications of the data need to be constructed with care. In the end, all this invisible work might in fact be the most critical part of the development process.
We’ve come across similar experiences in the InnoDigi-project that has aimed to develop the digital infrastructures and access to the innovation platforms in the Tampere Region. These experiences, however, tell us that consistent work is still needed in order to increase the understanding of the possibilities of data sharing and the utilization of new information sources. With these experimentations we’ve aimed to poke the status quo and to build up our capabilities to understand and utilize the data evolution.
As a conclusion: The ever evolving world of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence offer new possibilities to provide information on strategically interesting topics, such as the circular economy, and new ways to commit operatives into data. Ready-made solutions of the data gathering and processing are, however, rare if nonexistent.
The aims and the development process of the ecosystem tool is addressed also in a policy brief written in co-operation with Nordregio.
About the authors
Henrika Ruokonen works as a regional analyst operating and developing regional knowledge management processes.
Johanna Alakerttula works as a circular economy specialist and development manager in international and national circular economy projects called BSR Stars S3, SCREEN and Tulevaisuuden akkuekosysteemi at the Council of Tampere Region. She is particularly interested in boosting circular economy development in the Tampere region, getting broader understanding of circular economy ecosystems as well as changing thinking from current take, make and dispose towards circular economy.