Showcasing Data for Improving Cities

The Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), originally founded in 2014 with a five-year ESRC grant, recently received further ESRC funding to continue its important work until 2024. In this blog Rhiannon Law highlights some of the UBDC’s achievements to date and offers a glimpse of some of the work on the horizon. This piece was originally posted on the UBDC website.

Over the past few months we have been reflecting on the Centre’s achievements across our first phase, and looking ahead to this new opportunity. As part of this celebration, we held a showcase event on ‘Shaping Cities Through Urban Analytics’ on 28th November 2018 in Glasgow.

Over 100 invited senior stakeholders from academia, industry, the public sector, and the third sector were welcomed to the event by Professor Anne H Anderson OBE, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Social Sciences at University of Glasgow.

Photo of Kate Forbes MSP speaking at Urban Big Data Centre event

Opening the event, Scottish Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes MSP described the opportunities for data analytics to be used to improve the economy, the healthcare system and the environment. She also stressed the importance of bringing academia, the public sector and business together to develop the skills and capabilities necessary to take advantage of these opportunities, which was the main driver for us holding this event.

The morning session looked at the impact our work has achieved to date across four of our key research strands, which will be central to the next five years of the Centre: Transport and Mobility; Education, Skills and the Labour Market; Housing and Neighbourhoods; Urban Analytics.

In the afternoon, Tom Smith, Managing Director of the ONS Data Science Campus, gave a keynote presentation on ‘Making an impact: realising the potential of urban data science’. He explored various case studies highlighting how Government departments are now collaborating on data science projects and linking administrative data with tangible results. He also acknowledged issues relating to GDPR and data privacy but noted that these need to be assessed alongside the benefits of using the data, saying that there is a need “to weigh up the misuse of data with the missed use of data”.

The panel session that followed reflected on the benefits highlighted in the keynote presentation but also noted the complex issues that are faced in all sectors. The lack of skills, capacity issues, risk-adversity (particularly in relation to GDPR) and public perceptions of their data being used were all mentioned as barriers to using big data to improve cities. The proposed solution from each member of the panel referred back to the Minister’s words from the morning session: we need to work collaboratively across all sectors and cities – both in the UK and internationally – on urban data projects and then develop case studies to demonstrate the real value of this work.

Photo of delegates looking at programme document at Urban Big Data Centre event

Mirela Causevic, IT Researcher and Data Scientist at Statistics Netherlands (CBS), attended the showcase event and commented:

“The Urban Big Data Centre is unique in its approach and output, and as such is an important partner for us at Statistics Netherlands. The versatility of their research and innovative methods has been presented at this event.

“Some of their many relevant, and quite innovative projects were shown, which span different disciplines and methods: ranging from housing and neighbourhoods, education, skills and the labour market, to transport and mobility, and the state of the art methods needed for this type of research. For Statistics Netherlands, both the themes as well as the methods explored are very relevant, and we feel there is much potential in learning from each other in our collaboration.”

Photo of attendees at Urban Big Data Centre event

Speaking about what he took away from the event, Professor Nick Bailey, Professor of Urban Studies and Director of the Urban Big Data Centre, said:

“I was really struck by the amazing variety of work going on. People are making enormous strides with big data. But I was also struck by some of the barriers that we’re still facing to getting access to data: legal barriers, financial barriers, skills gaps. We need to continue working with politicians and senior leaders in organisations to keep the commitment to the idea of big data, and to translate that into faster and quicker access to more data.”

Videos of the main sessions and insights from the event can be viewed via the YouTube playlistbelow and the full event programme and presentation files are available to download from the Presentations & Resources section. You can also see Tweets about the day from a range of participants by searching the hashtag #ubdcshowcase.