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Disruptive Techno­logies in the Public Sector

A partner in both the TG4Np and Improve Projects from ERNACT Ireland contacted us at the end of the 2014-2020 NPA funding period. Tradi­tio­nally, at the end of the funding period, extra money is distri­buted, and now the oppor­tunity had come to get a research project funded about advanced technologies.

The reasons for co-operation were based on Karelia’s good reputation and activities in previous projects. ERNACT also called to action Umeå University. According to the original decision, the project was due to start on 1 April 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the start was postponed to 1 October 2020. The project ended March 31, 2022.

The DISTINCT Project (Disruptive Techno­logies Trans­forming Northern Periphery and Arctic Commu­nities) was led by the ERNACT network (Ireland), which coordi­nated activities with the other two partners: Karelia University of Applied Sciences (Finland) and Umeå University (Sweden). The project had a duration of 18 months.

The Distinct Project

The DISTINCT Project explored the practical application of Disruptive Techno­logies in the public service provision. This includes the use of Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intel­li­gence (AI) and Blockchain in health and social care, environ­mental management and training.

Disruptive technology is an innovation that signi­ficantly alters the way that consumers, industries, or businesses operate. A disruptive technology sweeps away the systems or habits it replaces because it has attri­butes that are recog­nizably superior.

The reason disruptive techno­logies are important, is because the successful application can save costs, increase viability, improve use of scarce human resources, span distances and improve decision making. However, the small number and concent­ration of disruptive technology research and innovation centers, allied with low levels of awareness, present serious blocks to realizing this improvement.

The DISTINCT Project focused on the following technologies:

• Internet of Things (IoT): describes the network of small physical objects, that are packed with sensors, software, and other techno­logies to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet.

• Artificial Intel­li­gence (AI): describes software, machines, computers or devices that can mimic functions of the human mind such as learning, perceiving their environment, solving a problem or success­fully achieving goals.

• Virtual Reality (VR): use of special headsets/devices to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensa­tions that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. The user is able to look and move around and interact with virtual objects.

• Augmented Reality (AR): interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual infor­mation, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities.

• Blockchain: Blockchain is a growing distri­buted list of data records, called blocks, linked using crypto­graphy. It is resistant to modification and can record transac­tions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.

What We Did in the Distinct Project

Partners worked together to jointly achieve the project’s main result: three Northern Periphery and Arctic regions with signi­ficantly enhanced capacity to deliver future-proof viable public services using disruptive techno­logies as a result of increased awareness, prepa­redness and innovation planning.

1. Public Sector Foresight Analysis

The questionnaire’s intention is to increase awareness among public autho­rities by disco­vering applica­tions and estimating potential demand, of how particular disruptive techno­logies can be applied to particular public services in remote and sparsely populated areas.

A total of 45 total responses were gathered through the online question­naire from different NPA countries. Responses came from Finland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Link to Foresight Analysis Report.

2. NPA Disruptive Techno­logies Capacity Evaluation Report

The purpose of the document is to assess the existing disruptive techno­logies capacities available in the NPA region.

It is the result of the process followed by the DISTINCT partners which have included desk research, consul­ta­tions and inter­views with target groups that in this case are the research centers, univer­sities, colleges and companies, owners of the know-how on disruptive techno­logies solutions.

The identi­fication process has focused in the potential application of disruptive techno­logies, in particular Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intel­li­gence (AI), Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and Blockchain, into the public service areas addressed in the project, namely, health and care, environ­mental management and training.

Link to the Capacity Evaluation Report

3. DISTINCT Disruptive Tuesdays

The Disruptive Tuesdays was a series of workshops/demo sessions where several examples were showcased providing attendees with a better idea of the role that these techno­logies can play for improved public services. In total, three sessions were organized:

  1. Use of Disruptive Techno­logies in Environ­mental Management, 16 November 2021 –
  2. Use of Disruptive Techno­logies in Health and Social Care, 7 December 2021 (Hosted by Karelia –
  3. Use of Disruptive Techno­logies in Education and Training, 25 January 2022

These online sessions were recorded and can be accessed here.

4. Imple­men­tation Roadmap

The recom­men­da­tions and best practices proposed in this roadmap, targeted to organiza­tions respon­sible of public services, makes use of the findings from the work done by the DISTINCT partnership in previous project activities. The roadmap will be published on the project website at a later date. The roadmap can be found after publication here.


Timo Rui, Senior Project Manager, Karelia UAS

Riikka Räsänen, Project Specialist, Karelia UAS

Cover photo: Tara Winstead