EAG welcoming words by State Secretary Tuomo Puumala 19.9.2019

Delegates from the European Union member states, representatives of the European Commission, observers attending this meeting,

Education and culture mean many things to many people. In the Ministry and its branch of government, education and culture are an integral part of our work. Early childhood education and care, education, science, art and culture, sports and youth work all play an intrinsic role in creating and fostering education and culture, and they help revitalise society. Culture takes shape and impacts society through skills, creativity, inclusiveness, global and social responsibility and wellbeing, and in how we embrace an international outlook, understand plurality and care for others. Education and culture bring meaning to our lives, and a meaningful life boosts our trust in society, leading to a wider, shared sense of confidence.

The digital transformation will continue to accelerate over the next few years, and its effects will be far-reaching. We must ensure that Europe is digitally independent and has a fair share of the benefits this development will bring. Our policies must be formulated in a way that reflects our social values, promotes inclusion and is compatible with our way of life. The EU must work on all fronts of the digital revolution and the development of artificial intelligence, including infrastructure, services, data, regulation and investments. These are also linked to the development of the service ecosystem and the mainstreaming of digital services.

We must build a fair and climate neutral Europe with a strong social dimension. Consequently, we should invest in culture and in our cultural heritage, which are at the heart of our European identity. Digital technology is changing our lives in many ways, so we must find ways to harness its positive potential and combat the negatives. Parity is at the heart of everything we do. By fostering cultural diversity and reaching out beyond our borders, we enrich and shape our society. Our actions enable us to impact developments positively and prevent risks from materialising. Education and culture are reflected in our daily lives, in special occasions, in the vitality of our communities, in our creativity and in the respect we have for one another. So it is only natural that we should reinforce education and culture in all forms.

Today, Finland is a society based on knowledge and its efficient use. As new digital cultural heritage material is created and earlier material and information resources are digitised, our digital cultural heritage will keep increasing and diversifying. To make their information resources available, archives, libraries and museums continuously develop new services and ways of digitising their material. The purpose of digital cultural heritage is to maintain digital services in order to improve the availability, accessibility and long-term preservation of the information resources for cultural heritage. At the same time, digital cultural heritage promotes cooperation between archives, libraries and museums, and fosters digital expertise. Cultural heritage that is open to all and linked to everyday life promotes social pluralism, interaction and inclusion.

Information systems and the information they contain are an integral part of how the public administration operates. Authorities must be able to act efficiently and economically and serve their customers quickly and reliably. When reforming their activities and services, they will have to take the needs of users into account. In order to achieve this, information must move as seamlessly as possible between public administration information systems. For the sake of efficiency, it is important that the same information is collected only once, after which it is available to all authorities and, where necessary, to other users. This is also an attempt to dismantle administrative silos and reduce multiple storage of the same data. In Finland, we intend to make public services available to citizens and businesses digitally by 2023 – that is, relatively soon. The Finnish Research Information Hub is a great example of this development work. The Hub gathers and disseminates information on research carried out in Finland. Information on scientists, publications, research materials, projects and infrastructures can be found in one place. Reporting and administrative work will be reduced as data is available in a single location and flows freely between services. Both researchers and the general public will benefit from this service.

The current Government’s ambitious goal is to make Finland’s public administration the best in the world. Digitalisation, sustainable development and capacity for renewal will constitute the pillars of Finnish legislation and governance. In line with this, the project includes a legislative reform. The Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice are investigating what kind of archiving legislation will be needed, not only to reform the Archives Act, but also to cover the entire field and to see how information systems should be developed in the future. Legislative work also includes looking at how our peer groups abroad are doing. In addition to developing digital services, we must ensure the reliability, storage and usability of the underlying information resources.

In May 2018, the European Commission published a Communication “Towards a common European data space”. This package of measures is driven by the previously adopted PSI Directive on the re-use of public sector information and the GDPR, which entered into force in May 2018. The aim of the Communication is to create conditions for new business activity and innovations, strengthen democracy and civil society, enhance administration, and diversify the information resources available to education and research. In order to reap the socio-economic benefits, we need access to both public sector and private sector data on the widest possible terms and with a long-term perspective. This aim must not be restricted by legislation in such a way that the freedom of scientific research is compromised.

A common data space also requires interoperability of archived data and information systems. Its successful implementation will significantly increase the reliability of government data available to researchers and decision-makers and further strengthen the social impact of archives. The requirement to open up information also extends to publicly owned companies in Finland.

The purpose of opening up public sector data is to make more extensive use of public materials, the use of which has been previously restricted due to licensing practices, fees or technical constraints. For example, a few years ago the National Land Survey of Finland opened up its topographic database for public and free-of-charge use by citizens and businesses. Previously, use of this data had been subject to fees. In addition to topography, data on weather, climate, sea, transport, economy, statistics and culture has been opened up in Finland and can be used free of charge.

As scientists must be able to rely on the data that has been opened up, it is essential that information on the original context is also included. Consequently, the Commission’s 2018 Communication stresses that, in addition to the information, metadata describing its characteristics and purpose must also be made available. In addition to the actual information, the context information must be published: at least the person who generated the information and the purpose for which it was generated. Without context, information remains unreliable. The greatest benefits of this opening up of information resources are reaped when different types of data can be combined.

Most of the public administration data is in registers, many of which are personal data files. This means that there are special conditions for their research use, which will also affect the implementation of digital services. For research, it is essential to combine data from different registers in order to generate new data. Merging the GDPR and the Communication on the European data space, which emphasises open access to information, into a single managed approach will be a key goal at European level in the coming years.

In Finland, registers provide a key information resource for society. Joint licensing services would speed up and improve their utilisation.  As most of the registers are personal data files, there are special conditions for using the data contained in them. The application process for research permits should be simplified. In the administrative branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, a new licensing authority will begin to process research permits for health and social data at the beginning of next year. When developing solutions for using information, the freedom of research must be safeguarded. Tomorrow, you will discuss information management and research use of register data.

Ladies and gentlemen, to enable digitalisation of administration, research and citizens’ access to data, archives must be able to renew and develop their activities. It is important that analogue material is digitalised and made available for service provision as easily as possible. In Finland, the National Archives is currently piloting mass digitisation, where a high-capacity scanner can digitise up to 300 pages per minute. The files pass through various programmes to quality assurance, after which a large proportion of analogue material can be disposed. The content of large amounts of information can be accessed using new mathematical methods of artificial intelligence and information management, such as the semantic web. Machines can handle large masses of information much more efficiently than humans. In the next few years, this new use of data will have a revolutionary impact on a wide range of sectors, including business, politics, medicine and almost all fields of natural and social sciences. Archives will play a key role in the management of these masses of data and in the permanent storage and archiving of information that remains important for society. On behalf of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, I wish you every success in your important work and your meetings here in Helsinki.

State Secretary Tuomo Puumala, Ministry of Education and Culture

Opening address at the European Archives Group meeting in the National Archives

19 September 2019