UKRI investment to harness the power of smart data for research

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£59m is being invested in Smart Data Research UK (SDR UK) to unlock the power of new forms of data to benefit society.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing in a six-year programme to give researchers safe access to ‘smart data’. This is data generated through everyday interactions with the digital world, including via mobile apps, navigation systems, social media, and shopping.

Smart data offers a powerful opportunity to understand society, improve lives, and sustainably grow our economy. Analysis of smart data will provide new insights about the way we live and work.

This could help tackle issues such as:

  • the cost of living
  • productivity and growth
  • public health and social care
  • decarbonisation and the transition towards a sustainable future

A world leading data economy

Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation George Freeman MP said:

Data is the raw material that makes up so much of our modern economies. It fuels innovation, offers crucial insights into everything from public health to the environment, and is vital for the UK’s continued leadership in safe AI development.

We are committed to securing the UK’s position as a world leading data economy. Smart Data Research UK will ensure that the safe and responsible use of data can continue to support British researchers to make new scientific and technological breakthroughs.

SDR UK will help deliver the government’s National Data Strategy and National artificial intelligence (AI) Strategy. This will support the UK to build a world-leading data and AI economy while ensuring public trust in data use.

The power of smart data

The use of smart data has tangible real-world impacts, yielding benefits for health and economic wellbeing.

One example is the Cancer Loyalty Card Study, which used purchase information from two high street retailer’s loyalty card schemes, combined with a questionnaire.

It found that changes in purchasing patterns for over-the-counter medication could help spot ovarian cancer up to eight months before diagnosis, enabling more patients to make a full recovery.

This groundbreaking project recently won a DataIQ award for ‘best use of data for not-for profit or non-commercial purposes’.

Smart, secure and safe

SDR UK will create new research partnerships with organisations that hold data, such as supermarkets, financial services, tech companies and online retailers.

The data will be de-identified and made available to approved researchers in a safe and secure way.

Smart data is a rich resource for understanding society and improving lives. Used responsibly it could help:

  • understand the relationship between diet and illness by linking shopping data with health studies
  • develop insights about the financial wellbeing of communities in different parts of the UK using financial transaction data linked to geographic locations
  • support emergency response to natural disasters through near-real time, high-resolution data sources and new methods of analysis

Responsible research and public engagement

Improving lives is the core mission of SDR UK. The safe, secure and responsible handling of data will underpin its work. Rigorous safeguards will protect personal information, in full compliance with data protection law.

To earn public trust, the public needs to be actively heard, engaged and involved in decisions around how their data is used. SDR UK will put this at the centre of its work through a programme of public engagement.

Building partnerships

ESRC Executive Chair Stian Westlake said:

In the last decade there has been an explosion in the volume and variety of data. ESRC’s long-term commitment to investing in the UK’s capability to realise the potential of this data has underpinned key scientific breakthroughs, and our investment in SDR UK opens exciting new possibilities.

Smart Data Research UK is embarking on an ambitious programme to unlock, organise and champion safe access to smart data. It will build partnerships to demonstrate responsible practices, champion engagement and safeguard public trust.

The UKRI Infrastructure Fund

SDR UK is part of the UKRI Infrastructure Fund, which supports the facilities, equipment and resources that are essential for researchers and innovators to do ground-breaking work. SDR UK is managed by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its data infrastructure strategy.

This is designed to build UK infrastructure fit for the future and includes:

  • Administrative Data Research UK: ensuring data provided by UK government bodies is accessible to researchers in a safe and secure form, to enable better informed policy decisions that improve lives
  • Health Data Research UK: the UK’s national institute for health data science, uniting the UK’s health and care data to enable new discoveries
  • UK Data Service: the UK’s largest collection of economic, population and social research data for teaching, learning and public benefit

SDR UK will build on the success of established and successful investments in this area including:

  • the Consumer Data Research Centre
  • the Urban Big Data Centre

Together they have demonstrated the highest standards of ethical conduct, responsible data and privacy practices while enabling valuable data analysis by researchers.

Further information

Useful links

Infrastructure Fund projects

For more information about SDR UK please see strategy engagement (SDR UK).

Top image:  Credit: JulPo, E+ via Getty Images

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