Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Digital Footprints

The aim of the Digital Footprints programme is to coordinate, convene, develop and support thriving interdisciplinary digital footprint data communities, focused on addressing pressing national and international challenges. The programme will be delivered in two phases.

A total of £59.3 million between 2022 and 2029
Phase one will run from 2022 to 2024. Phase two will run from 2023 to 2029
Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The scope and what we're doing

People’s interactions with the world and each other are increasingly mediated by digital devices. These interactions create digital footprints data. This data includes:

  • internet and social media
  • geo-spatial
  • commercial and transactional
  • sensor and image

They can be harnessed to understand and address key research, business and policy questions about our increasingly digital society.

However, digital footprints data cannot currently be used to its full potential. Researchers are limited by a number of challenges including insufficient data access and infrastructure, underdeveloped methodology and theoretical development, and opaque ethical procedures.

Digital Footprints will deliver a transformational shift in the creation, access and use of digital footprint data. It will address critical gaps within the landscape and unlock the huge opportunity for digital footprint data to positively transform research and policy-making for areas of national and international interest. Digital Footprints will be delivered in two phases.

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.

Digital Footprints Data Services

The Digital Footprints Data Services enables access, creation and use of digital footprint data that delivers against national priorities and needs for the social sciences, delivered through the:

Digital Footprints Accelerator Scheme

The Digital Footprints Accelerator Scheme is open for expressions of interest until August 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.

ESRC Digital Footprints 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 to ESRC on the development and delivery of Digital Footprints. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Rachel Franklin at email:

Phase two

Scheduled to start in 2023 and end in 2029, phase two is part of UK Research and Innovation’s UKRI) £481 million investment in major research and innovation infrastructure. Phase two will see an investment (subject to business case approval) of £48.4 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

Digital Footprints aims to:

  • unlock access to digital footprint data by building long-term partnerships with data owners
  • deliver a secure, efficient, effective digital research infrastructure
  • deliver research-ready digital footprint data to researchers
  • foster public trust in digital footprints research through public involvement, engagement and responsible practices
  • promote innovation by leading a thriving and skilled interdisciplinary digital footprints research community
  • address the unique methodological and technical challenges of using digital footprints data for research
  • deliver benefits for UK society and economy from the opportunities posed by digital footprint data

Future Data Services

Digital Footprints will inform and be informed by the Future Data Services programme, which is ensuring that the services and infrastructure we fund beyond 2024 supports the needs of data users, owners and managers from across sectors, and remains fit for purpose, within a rapidly evolving landscape.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

Apply for funding to undertake innovative research and proof of concept work to transform how digital footprint data (DFD) is created, accessed and used for the public good. 

Engagement activities

Supported by the ESRC Digital Footprints strategic advisory team, from 2022 to 2024 ESRC will be running a series of engagement activities to help shape key aspects of the programme. For example, focusing on:

  • digital research infrastructure requirements for phase two
  • requirements for the delivery of capacity-building at the intersection between social science and digital footprints data
  • areas of national and international interest that illustrate and focus Digital Footprints’ role, including identifying partnership opportunities with relevant programmes of activity across and beyond UKRI
  • legislative and policy interventions required to support the development and delivery of Digital Footprints

If you are interested in getting involved, please get in contact with the ESRC Digital Footprints team.

Who to contact

Ask a question about this programme

Digital Footprints team


Specific enquiries related to the Digital Footprints Accelerator Scheme can be directed to email:

Governance, management and panels

The Digital Footprints 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 Digital Footprints 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: 7 March 2023

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