Introducing the Innovation Fund: embracing new ideas and new partnerships


Louise Corti of the UK Data Service gives an update on the latest developments with our Innovation Fund partners, four exciting projects to create  an open data and crowdsourcing project to generate innovative apps, a library of interactive tools to allow users/owners to create their own infographics, a Risk Utility Management Tool designed to take the mystery out of how confidential data are anonymised and an open-source census data extraction and visualisation tool.

Four projects have been funded as part of the first round of the UK Data Service’s new Innovation Fund.  These projects successfully demonstrated that their pilot projects had the potential for new products or enhanced outcomes for the UK Data Service and have been awarded up to £150,000 to develop their innovation, ensuring that it becomes fully embedded and sustained within the UK Data Service.  I have coordinated the competition and the selection of and liaison with, successful projects.  It has been a real joy to have the opportunity to work more closely with colleagues from the commercial sector who have helped challenge our own assumptions about the potential uses of social science data outside academia.

The Innovation Fund was established by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as an incubator fund for new ideas and rapid advancements to be incorporated into the core Service.  This is the first time the ESRC have used this model of funding and from progress so far, it looks like a promising enterprise.

After calls for projects in the summer of 2013, an Information Day was held in November 2013 for potential applicants to network and find out about the UK Data Service, and to consider the opportunities for co-development of a proposal. This Information Day was facilitated by 100%Open and aimed to engage, inform and interest data owners, businesses and innovators about the opportunities for working with the Service. Over 60 participants attended on the day, coming from a range of backgrounds, with the academic, private and public sectors all represented. The event resulted in the submission of 17 expressions of interest — of which nine projects were pitched at a two-day ‘Dragon’s Den’ style event in February 2014. Of these, seven were selected to proceed for a three-month pilot phase.  Refreshingly, project proposals came in from businesses as well as academics, plus some joint efforts. These focused on resource discovery, data access and linkage platforms, visualisations, and opening up data to new communities.

The successful projects

The three-month demonstrator projects were partnered with small teams at the UK Data Service to maximise steering each project for its best possible outcome, given the short time window.  The four that were selected to go forward from a further pitch held in July 2014 were:

  • Ralph We propose an innovative open data and crowdsourcing project to generate innovative apps and services from developers who may not have otherwise discovered the UK Data Service or ESRC. The project will identify and prepare up to three datasets that can be made open via an API (Application Programming Interface), as certified by the Open Data Institute. These data will be used for a competition for developers to find innovative uses and outlets for the data. Prizes will be awarded to the best solutions submitted to the App Challenge contest. The competition will be promoted in the popular developer community. Read blog
  • Davis Lewis,  Audiencenet: Underpinned by solid qualitative research amongst UK Data Service user and potential user groups, we propose a number of visual improvements and tools for the Services; web presence.  The project will deliver a library of interactive tools to allow users/owners to create their own infographics, for outputs like case studies; leaderboards of real-time analytics on data usage and informative animations to guide and enhance the user experience; and series of ‘how-to’ animations aimed at potential and new users. Read blog
  • Richard Welpton, UK Data Service: We propose a Risk Utility Management Tool designed to take the mystery out of how confidential data are anonymised into files that can be downloaded. The tool provides a simple interface allowing the user to upload a source of confidential data, and easily apply anonymisation preferences as desired. Settings can be saved and used in the future, taking out the inconsistency often associated with data preparation. Preparing anonymised versions of data can be time-consuming and expensive: this tool will remove the lengthy decision-making and creation out of the process. Read blog
  • Paul Williamson, University of Liverpool: InFuseR is an R-based Census aggregate data extractor. Whilst excellent in many ways, InFuse (the UK Data Service’s interface to tabular census data) doesn’t offer the ability to save complex extraction queries spanning multiple geographies, tables and cells for re-running or amendment. This project will combine the open source statistical software R plus three resources housed by the UK Data Service: census file metadata; detailed census data tables themselves; and the associated map boundary files, to create an open-source census data extraction and visualisation tool with a syntax-driven interface that interacts directly with the InFuse API. Read blog

Each project will be publishing regular blog updates which I invite you to read.  The Services’ Communications and Impact team will also be posting specific news and events relating to the projects to keep you up to date with developments, contact the blog editor or or tweet us @UKDataService @UKDSImpact @UKDSCensus or @UKDSIntdata.


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