Flanders Government strengthens a trusted data economy with Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server

8 minute read
Government and Enterprise
Build an infrastructure and personal data space for innovative data services that maintain citizen trust
Human-centric ecosystem enabling citizens to take control of their data using “data vaults,” built with Inrupt’s Solid Server
New innovations through secure citizen-controlled access to validated personal data, positioning Flanders as a European leader in data technology

Economic prosperity is more than ever driven by intelligent sharing of data, including personal data. The Flanders government recognized that data should be able to flow more freely to fuel innovation and enhance citizen interactions with the government and private companies. But the government faced common challenges to letting data flow across sectors and countries: scattered and inaccessible data, incompatible data formats, regulatory hurdles and the distrust that both individuals and organizations feel when asked to share their data.

Quotation mark symbol
Letting data flow is the key to giving our society and our economy a huge boost in the 2020s. But that requires trust.
Jan Jambon
Flemish Prime Minister

In order to help the Flemish economy overcome these challenges, the government created athumi, a neutral public company to foster the data economy. Conceived as a “utility company” for data, athumi’s mission is to “facilitate the development of innovative services through data collaboration while ensuring businesses and consumers retain control of their data.”


Build an infrastructure and personal data space for innovative data services that maintain citizen trust

To be able to let data flow in the economy, athumi needed to develop the ecosystem, governance, processes, architecture, semantics, legal frameworks, and software that would stimulate data sharing opportunities for citizens and businesses alike, while also building citizens’ trust that their data is handled in a secure and private manner. In constructing this secure data ecosystem, athumi faced a number of challenges familiar to data-driven economies all over the world, such as:

  • Inaccessible data: Data about an individual is scattered across the private databases of dozens of organizations, inaccessible even when the individual wants to share. Therefore companies spend more time and energy collecting and searching for data than on building innovative applications that make use of data.
  • Incompatible data formats: Even when relevant data can be identified and located, each data source stores the data in a different format. Organizations need to build and maintain complicated APIs and ETLs in order to share data.
  • Regulations: Organizations must only share personal data in compliance with ever-changing privacy regulations and security best practices.
  • Distrust: Many citizens feel hesitant to share data with both the private and public sector because they don’t know how it will be used. Even companies fear losing control of their data when sharing it with others. Distrust creates a barrier to connecting data silos, even when the connections offer more opportunities for all.

Traditional approaches to data storage, integration, security and consent management failed to meet athumi’s needs. A new data ecosystem required a new kind of software infrastructure designed for secure data sharing, as well as expert partners to ensure this infrastructure was implemented correctly.


Human-centric ecosystem enabling citizens to take control of their data using “data vaults,” built with Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server

Athumi made the key decision to use the Solid specification for their data collaboration ecosystem. As the Flanders ecosystem implements additional use cases, all Flanders’ citizens will be able to receive their own “personal data vault” or Solid Pod. Public and private organizations can request citizens’ permission to access certain data in their Pod to provide innovative applications and services.

In order to build a Solid ecosystem at national scale, Flanders relied on Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server software. Inrupt also partnered with the government to deploy and manage the software according to their strict requirements, as well as to consult on legal, commercial, and governance issues.

Solid Pods will now serve as the architecture of a government-hosted data vault accessible to Flanders’ 6.5 million citizens and both public and private providers of value-added services. As the foundational data infrastructure, Pods will act as trusted:

  • Hubs of data for an economy-wide data ecosystem, allowing data to flow between the public and private sectors and among private sector companies;
  • Data stores for authoritative, verifiable data;
  • Fine-grained consent management and access control hubs to any participant in the ecosystem.
A flow diagram. On the left is a Data Producer. There is an arrow pointing to the right from Data Producer to Control Access. There is an arrow pointing to the right from Control Access to the Citizen Pod. There is an arrow pointing to the right from the Citizen Pod to another instance of Control Access. There is an arrow pointing to the right from the second instance of Control Access to a Data User. At the top of the diagram is a Citizen, with arrows coming out of either side of the Citizen to point towards both instances of Control Access.

Through athumi’s platform, the citizen retains control over their own data and chooses which data to share with which organizations and for what period of time. All of the citizen’s data is stored in a Solid Pod in a standardized format that all ecosystem participants can use. Anyone in the Flanders ecosystem who is approved by athumi’s advisory committee and board of directors and is in alignment with their own sectoral governance structures may request access to data directly from citizens for a certain purpose or in order to provide an intended service. 

Currently, citizens can view and manage access to their data through their Citizen Profile. Each profile has a “Personal Data Safe” tab, which allows individuals to see what data they have stored in their Solid Pod, as well as the various access requests for that data and their given consents.

A flow diagram. At the top of the diagram is the Citizen, holding a phone. There is a number 1 next to the Citizen, which is explained in the first bullet below. Under the Citizen are two phones, the one on the right is labelled Ecosystem Apps and displays an array of apps on the phone. There is an arrow pointing to the right from Ecosystem Apps to the other phone, which is labelled Access Management Component. There is a green thumbs up icon and a red thumbs down icon on the phone. There is a number 2 next to Access Management Component. Underneath the two phones is a box called Inrupt ESS (Enterprise Solid Server).  In the middle of the box is the Citizen Pod. To the left and right of the Citizen Pod are two instances of Access Grants. There are two arrows that come out of the Access Management Component and point to each instance of the Access Grant. There is a number 3 next to the Access Grants. There is a number 4 next to the logo for Inrupt ESS. To the left of the ESS box is a Data Producer. To the right of the ESS box is a Data User. Below the ESS box are Data usage tracking and Data discovery. There is a number 5 next to Data usage tracking and Data discovery. There is an arrow pointing to the right from Data Producer into the ESS box, through the first instance of Access Grant and to the Citizen Pod. From the right of the Citizen Pod is another arrow pointing to the right that goes through the second instance of Access Grant and then out of the ESS box to point to Data User. There are two additional arrows coming out of the Data Producer box, pointing each to Data usage tracking and Data discovery. There are also two additional arrows coming out of Data User pointing to Data usage tracking and Data discovery.
  1. Citizens gain transparency and control over access to data from many sources, all through a single interface, such as an Access Management Component like the Flemish Citizen Profile.
  2. Access Management Component enables users to change which organizations can access what data, provide a way to respond to access requests, and allow Data Producers or Data Users to identify themselves to the user.
  3. Access Grants provide users fine-grained access control while also allowing Data Producers and Data Users the ability to ask permission to process Pod data, directly from the user. By providing consent and access controls via a user-centric datastore, consumers gain the benefits of data privacy and transparency.
  4. Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server (ESS) securely hosts and operationalizes Pods for millions of citizens.
  5. Access requests and Access Grants provide the building blocks for data usage tracking and data discovery. By using these tools in combination with an ESS audit, athumi can reconstruct a chain of events associated with data access. athumi can also use access requests and Access Grants, along with additional ESS features such as Query, to further enhance data discovery within a Pod.

Use cases already underway:

Athumi already has a number of Solid-based projects underway in the area of professional data, which allows standardized credentials to be exchanged among citizens and private and public entities.

My Professional Data

Over the course of a career, an employee shares a lot of data with his or her employer—this data must often be shared manually, with an employee searching for documents, and digitizing and sending them. Employers or other parties who receive this data also need to process it manually, creating a lot of friction in the process. 

By using Solid, athumi can automate this process, saving time on behalf of the employer and employee. Recipients of the data can also organize their information more efficiently and securely. 

Diploma sharing

Private recruitment agencies frequently need access to diplomas when working with job candidates. In Flanders’ current system, government entities can access diplomas through the Learning and Experience Evidence Database. However, private parties are not granted access. By using Solid, citizens can grant diploma data to private parties such as recruitment agencies when necessary.

A woman sitting in front of a computer looking at the diploma sharing UI

To share a diploma with a recruitment agency, citizens connect their account with the recruitment agency through their Citizen Profile, and can create a new Solid Pod connected to this profile. Individuals then give consent to have the Flemish government upload their diplomas or other certificates to the Pod, choose which certifications they’d like to share with the recruitment agency and for what period of time, and then confirm the recruitment agency’s access to this data. The job seeker is then directed back to the recruitment agency’s website and can continue to apply to jobs.

Sharing payroll data

Payroll data needs to be shared to many different parties, such as landlords, banks or the government. This data is currently most often shared through pay slips, which grants the recipient unnecessary information about a citizens’ employer or family. By using Solid, citizens can share only necessary information, such as gross wages, while concealing other private information that a third party does not need. Granting access to payroll data through Solid also avoids the need for human verification and ensures the accuracy of the data.

Solid and Flanders’ data infrastructure

Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server operationalizes Pods for millions of citizens, enabling controlled accessibility and reusability of personal data that improves the quality and flow of data sharing for the ecosystem. Since Solid Pods are interoperable, Pod data is stored in a standardized format that all participants in the data ecosystem can easily use. This capability makes it possible for Flanders’ data ecosystem to grow and for data to flow freely across EU borders, 

Solid also exceeds all existing and emerging data compliance regulations, such as GDPR, ensuring all data is fully protected even as regulations continue to evolve. As an open specification, Solid also lets athumi and its ecosystem partners avoid vendor lock-in and long-term investment in proprietary technologies. At the same time, these organizations are able to enjoy the benefits of innovation, enhancements, education and industry support from the Solid community. 

Want to learn more about how Inrupt’s Solid technology can improve governmental processes and strengthen trust with citizens?
Contact our team today