Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Smart Data Research UK

The Smart Data Research UK programme (formerly Digital Footprints) will unlock the power of new forms of data for research and innovation that solves social and economic challenges. It aims to provide secure data access, safeguard public trust, and build capability for cutting-edge research.

A total of £59.3 million between 2022 and 2029
Smart Data Research UK is funded from 2022 to 2029
Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Consumer Data Research Centre, Urban Big Data Centre

The scope and what we're doing

New forms of data offer a powerful opportunity to understand society, improve lives, and sustainably grow our economy. We define ‘smart data’ as the data generated through engagement with digital systems, devices and sensors, including:

  • mobile apps
  • navigation systems
  • social media
  • sensors in consumer devices and the environment
  • digital transactions

It can be about individuals, organisations, systems, or the physical environment.

Although we have seen examples of pioneering interdisciplinary research using novel data sources, many datasets cannot currently be used to their full potential for research. Researchers are limited by insufficient data access and technical infrastructure, as well as underdeveloped methodology and ethical procedures.

Smart Data Research UK (formerly Digital Footprints) will unlock the power of new forms of data for research and innovation that solves social and economic challenges. We will do this by providing secure data access, safeguarding public trust, and building capability for cutting-edge research.

Phase one

Launched in April 2022 and set to end in 2024 with funding of £10 million, phase one is comprised of three main components:

Data services

The Digital Footprints Data Services enable access, creation and use of digital footprint data that delivers against national priorities and needs for the social sciences. It is delivered through the Urban Big Data Centre and the Consumer Data Research Centre.

Accelerator scheme

The Digital Footprints Accelerator Scheme was open for expressions of interest until July 2023. This funding opportunity aims to fund innovative proof of concept projects to meet challenges in the digital footprints landscape.

The projects funded through this opportunity will lay the foundations for a transformational shift in the creation, access and use of digital footprint data for the public good.

Strategic advice team

The ESRC Digital Footprints Strategic Advice Team, started in January 2023 and led by Professor Rachel Franklin (Newcastle University), will provide strategic and informed advice on the development and delivery of Smart Data Research UK.

Phase two

Phase two will see an investment of £49.3 million from the UK Research and Innovation Infrastructure Fund from 2023 to 2029. It will enable us to invest at scale in a broader range of data services, speeding up and simplifying access to data for research.

The programme will be delivered through a centrally coordinated, federated infrastructure comprising:

  • a strategic hub, embedded in ESRC, providing:
    • leadership
    • coordination and oversight
    • a programme of citizen-centred involvement and engagement
    • an ethics and legal resource
  • federated data services cultivating long-term partnerships with data owners, providing curated access to data for priority areas of research interest. We will work iteratively to develop integration across the data infrastructures, working towards a federated model
  • cross-cutting accelerator funding opportunities for projects to develop new tools and methods, build researcher capacity to work with new forms of data, pilot new data sources and support interdisciplinary collaborations

Opportunities, support and resources available

For more information on the programme, please see our strategy engagement exercise which ran from August to October 2023.

Who to contact

Ask a question about this programme

Smart Data Research UK team


Strategic Advisory Team


Digital Footprints Accelerator Scheme


Governance, management and panels

The Smart Data Research UK governance, management and advisory structure is comprised of three main bodies:

  • the Programme Board will oversee, monitor and evaluate overall delivery of the strategic objectives of the programme
  • the Strategic Advice Team and Advisory Group will provide advice and guidance on scientific and strategic matters relating to the development and delivery of the programme
  • the Management Group brings together the accountable leads (principal investigators or directors) from across the programme to develop and agree activities necessary for successful delivery of the programme

Last updated: 17 October 2023

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