What do we mean by data? – a moment for creative discussion at the ATARCA Untitled Session

At left a close-up of some of the data metaphors explored in the untitled festival session.

What if we looked at data as we do at water, sunlight, or currency? As digital data is a relatively new phenomenon, it is fruitful to consider the implications of treating it as we do the more established parts of our economic and social systems, such as labour, oil, and currency. This thinking exercise may highlight challenges and new questions about the position of data in our current economic paradigms, and societies, and what this means for anti-rival economic thinking. 

As part of the European research project ATARCA, Demos Helsinki held the policy dialogue session at the Untitled festival in September 2021. The session was geared towards imagining new metaphors for data and to discuss the social and political implications of an anti-rival economy. The principal investigator of ATARCA, Ville Eloranta, opened the session with a talk on market failures in data economies and data sharing. Through a data metaphor card exercise developed by Aalto University IDBM students, the session sought to playfully think about data and the anti-rival economy in imaginative ways. Below we highlight some of the emerging ways to conceptualize data:

Data as Sunlight

What if we think of data as sunlight? One observation that arose during the session was that data and sunlight do not get depleted when they get used by more people (unlike physical resources, such as minerals). However, the costs of using both data and sunlight do still create barriers for their widespread use. The resources, like time, technology, and education needed to process and effectively utilise data, mean that despite it being anti-rival in theory, it is not accessible to everyone. Because the economic cost attached to processing and interpreting data restricts many groups that could benefit from data from accessing it in current market structures, this creates major inefficiencies for anti-rival economics to resolve.

Data as Art

A metaphor that highlighted the social inefficiencies created by governing data through current market institutions and economic structures was the metaphor of data as art. Data, like art, gains its value to wider society through its use. However, to the individual owner of the data, there is little incentive to allow open access to their resource, as they know it holds monetary value. This often results in data and art being stored far away from where they can provide the most use to broad groups of people, with their owners waiting for a good moment to extract a profit from them.

As has been done for art in publicly open museums, subsidies and government support can create the open access to data that we need to fully capture its positive potential. The market failure created by conventional economic paradigms shows both the challenge and the potential that anti-rival thinking has in creating more efficient and desirable outcomes for society.

Data as Capital

By looking at data as capital, we can also see how access to data funnels powers into a limited number of hands, as does capital. This raises pressing questions about the relation of current economic models in shaping the way power is created and distributed, and how anti-rival innovations may have broader societal and structural impacts beyond their impacts on the economy.

These were but a few of the excellent metaphors developed during the data metaphor exercise and following discussion. The used metaphors highlight that access to data is connected to how the world in many ways can be seen as divided between the haves and the have-nots. Significant amounts of power and influence over the future of society and our material environment are controlled by large corporations. The discussion clearly showed the challenges of the currently dominant economic paradigm. The session was the first policy dialogue session of ATARCA. We will continue the research, experimentation and dialogue around the economic paradigms aiming to explore the potential of, and the conditions for an anti-rival economy based on distributed ledger technology.

ATARCA Newsletter 10/2021: Looking ahead to anti-rival experimentation

Welcome to the first edition of the ATARCA newsletter. ATARCA is an EU-funded project exploring the concepts surrounding and technology supporting an anti-rival economy. Since beginning the project in April, exciting things have been happening within ATARCA, as we explore potential and on-going anti-rival use cases, build shared understandings of data, and imagine an anti-rival future.

Most recently, we have been developing potential uses for an anti-rival economy and identifying the characteristics of tokens that would be used within those cases. In September, we met with our policy advisory board to further advance these ideas. As we move forward, our ideas on anti-rivalry and its social and technical requirements will continue to grow.

Read the October 2021 Newsletter here!

Untitled Festival: A celebration of imagination and experimentation

On September 23rd, ATARCA project members hosted a dialogue session, challenging previous conceptions of data and co-creating new understandings of data that are not constrained by the existing economic system. This was the launch of our policy dialogue sessions, and the beginning of understanding the implications of anti-rivalry.

Read more about the festival here.

Ecosystems and anti-rival goods: Continuous education

In June, Esko Hakanen and Martin Moravek served as guest lecturers in the course, “CAS Crypto Finance & Cryptocurrencies: How Blockchain and Bitcoin are Changing Business” at
Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Esko and Martin presented to an audience on the difficulties of data markets in contrast to “traditional” businesses, the possibilities of ATARCA to address these challenges, and the Streamr project.

View the presentations here and here. Feel free to contact ATARCA if you have questions on these presentations!

Alina Grubnyak, unsplash

Metaphors for data: Workshop to understand data

For many, data is an intangible and vague concept, highly valued but not completely understood. Data has become almost a buzzword in modern society, offering promises of tailored and strategic decision making. The increasingly crucial role of data in business, government and education highlights the need for a shared understanding of what data is, its attributes, and how it can be used. As a part of their end of year project, a group of masters’ students in the IDBM program at Aalto University designed a “pocket workshop” to enable the development of a shared understanding of data.

The multidisciplinary group of students identified twelve metaphors to help explain data as a resource in today’s world.  The metaphor cards can be used in four activities to encourage discussion and reflection on data.

Read the final report,”Workshop in a Wallet: Data Edition”, here.

Food Suffering and Wellbeing Index: An anti-rival approach to food consumption

We consume three meals on average in a day which are constituted by several ingredients. The production of these food items has a lasting impact on factors such as the soil, water, and air and human and animal factors such as their rights, welfare, and even livelihood. However, when making food-related decisions, we are most likely to be alienated from this impact. As consumers, we also don’t believe we can have a positive impact created by our individual consumption habits. This gap creates a great opportunity for services that can pave the path for collective action for positive change.

A self-curated anti-rival Food Suffering and Wellbeing Index (FSWI) aims to create a comprehensive comparison on the social and environmental variables that have been positively or negatively impacted in the food supply chain to help consumers make an informed decision. The goal of FSWI is to encourage more sustainable decision making and not induce further climate anxiety.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 964678. The content of this website does not represent the opinion of the European Union, and the European Union is not responsible for any use that might be made of such content.