Digital Futures — All Eyes on Data

Digital Futures is one of the six thematic collaborations that form the research profile of the University of Turku. The Digital Futures collaboration is based on strong research in business and administration, digital media and culture, modern linguistics, learning environments, and medicine and health. The goal is to utilise modern IT in applications of different fields.

Digital Futures organised an event on data on 31 May 2018. In the event, the focus was on the development of the storing, handling, and utilising of the data of the University of Turku. Data connected over 40 experts from different fields to discuss the future of data together. The discussion will be continued in autumn when the All Eyes on Data Roadshow event will be organised in the Faculties.

Possibilities of Data in the University of Turku

According to Digital Futures’ Research Director Heli Salminen-Mankonen, utilising the data collected and produced in the University of Turku even better in future and interdisciplinary data collaboration create new research possibilities and increases the effectiveness of the University of Turku.

Vice Rector of the University of Turku, Kalle-Antti Suominen, who is responsible for research, spoke about materials as a possibility among other matters. Materials emerge both through the operations in the public and the private sector and new information is mainly digital, but also the digitalisation of older information is important. In addition, analysis methods develop when data mining and artificial intelligence can be utilised.

— Another possibility with materials is to utilise them commercially. At the same time, expertise in materials will become a necessity regarding the University’s operations, Suominen emphasised.

The University has invested in acquiring and managing materials significantly by granting €4 million in funding in May 2018 for acquiring nationally significant, both physical and digital research materials and for organising and maintaining new or already existing materials.

Future Data Services and Technological  Research Platforms – Dreams Coming True

In the event, IT Service Manager of the IT Services for research Meri-Tuulia Kaarakainen presented the University’s data services which are produced in co-operation between the IT Services, Library, and the Research Development unit. The current services include training, providing instructions and guidance, storage services, and scientific software as well as supplementary services offered by external parties such as CSC – IT Center for Science.

— In future, the entirety of the data services of the University is planned to be supplemented with the services of a modern research data platform and a data team. The objective of the new data services is to develop the managing, findability, and reusability of the materials of the University and to promote co-operation, Kaarakainen said.

According to Associate Professor of the Functional Foods Forum Mari Sandell, the new health technological research platform and food experience centre Flavoria is a long-term dream come true of foods researchers. Flavoria is the first large scale health technological research platform of the Nordic countries and Europe that has been developed for both scientific and commercial research.

In future, the food choices, amount of food waste, and observation of the customers, for example, can be researched in Flavoria. Using new video analytics, the multisensory experience research platform makes also measuring emotions and effectiveness possible.

Visualising and Openness of Data

Associate Professor of Geography Niina Käyhkö brought up possibilities and challenges in visualising data. Visualising data can be used to affect the interpretation of a phenomenon, and this is why, for example, providing education for researchers on the visualising skills of data is central. According to Professor of Geography Risto Kalliola, visualising geospatial data (data connected with location), thus, not only reveals phenomena, also the maker’s understanding on cartography.

Kalliola and Käyhkö also reminded the public of the challenges the openness of data presents and to react on them. Universities should consider ways in which they could affect the challenges of open data in co-operation. In the Department of Geography, for example, a new course has been planned for students on, for example, publishing data in a map service or data repository.

Also, creating data communities could promote the opening and sharing of materials. As a good example of this, Käyhkö mentions Zansea GeoNode, a platform for managing and publishing geospatial data that gathers the data community together in a new way.

Universities as Forerunners of Data Business

Professor of Entrepreneurship of Turku School of Economics Anne Kovalainen inspired the public to regard data as a strategic factor through which also the provisions of multidisciplinary research become thinkable. According to Kovalainen, the everyday life of futures research should be pondered well in advance.

— For example, using big data in human sciences means taking the significance of data management and data literacy into account already in undergraduate and postgraduate education. In human sciences, reusing data is not very common and the universities’ data policies and orientation to future have an important position in promoting it. In future, the working time of the researcher for the opening and managing of data needs to be taken into account also in the planning and duration of research projects, Kovalainen emphasised.

According to Kovalainen, one advocate of the openness and sharing of data is the model of open research funding that could also be tried by Finnish foundations. Open research funding not only means openness of open research, data, and methods, but also the invisibility of the whole application process for research funding all the way from the openness of the application phase to open evaluation and decision-making.

According to Kovalainen, the University could serve as a pioneer in data-related business opportunities and creator of new business by increasing innovation activities.

— The University of Turku could, for example, promote multidisciplinary research projects that are realised with companies and that deal with data and its utilisation. What is more, in addition to basic research, the focus would be on commercial research and business opportunities, Kovalainen said.

Professor of Law Juha Lavapuro explained matters related to data protection and freedom of science. According to Lavapuro, commercial innovation and development activities lead to a situation where data protection will limit the use of data in research, too. As a result of business, the requirements of data protection will become stricter. As opposed to research for the public good, the same data cannot be used on the same grounds anymore. In research, this often means asking for the consent of the research subject.