Highlights from our Innovate UK-funded R&D programme

How our research and development about data is helping shape a new generation of public and private services

Between April 2017 and March 2021, the Open Data Institute (ODI) ran a four-year research and development programme funded by Innovate UK.

The programme has been a major focus of the ODI’s overall R&D service where we undertake research across a range of areas related to data.

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The goal

The goal of our Innovate UK-funded R&D programme was to enable the UK to build on its strengths in data and analytics, break new ground in creating value from data across organisations, and ensure it remains at the forefront of data innovation around the world.  

At the ODI, we aim to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem that works for everyone. This research and development programme allowed us to proactively research key data topics, identify challenges and develop the prototypes and tools to address them. By advancing knowledge and expertise, we aimed to demonstrate how data can benefit the next generation of public and private services and create economic growth.

As part of the programme, we worked on various projects to examine the UK’s current data infrastructure and deliver insights, tools and programs to help build and maintain a world-leading data economy, while ensuring public trust in data use. 

Over the course of four years, we have completed 23 projects as well as sub-projects and seven campaigns with over 100 outputs, including reports, guides and tools, complemented by videos, explainers and podcasts – read, watched, downloaded and used by over 250,000 people.

Our focus: innovation, trust and infrastructure

The research and development was organised around three themes:

  1. Innovation, business growth and trade projects examining the innovative power of data and how organisations can create new data-enabled business models
  2. Data sharing and trust projects researching how to improve trust in how data is collected, managed and used, which will enable data to be shared more easily without harming society
  3. Data as infrastructure projects looking at how to create a robust and trustworthy data infrastructure that our society and economy can rely on.

The impact: innovative services built on trustworthy data infrastructure

Our work has helped organisations in the UK and across the world.

  • The Data Ethics Canvas, a tool that facilitates the integration of ethical practices at all stages of a data project’s lifecycle, which we tested and refined through this programme, is being used in 57 countries by private and public sector organisations.
  • Using data, new service delivery models are improving outcomes and reducing costs for public sector organisations.
  • Our work on data institutions - organisations that steward data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims - has added clarity to discussions around data sharing, governance and stewardship. Our research has showcased new data institutions being established to tackle critical social, environmental and economic challenges, from improving shipboard safety, to tackling degenerative eye conditions, and inspired others to imagine yet more.
  • Our guidance on open standards for data is helping organisations worldwide to increase interoperability, reduce costs and enable innovation.
“I reference the Data Ethics Canvas whenever embarking on a data project. It's a great starting point for asking questions that make you think about the ethics and impact of data use.” City of Hobart, Australia.

Selected highlights

Here are a few of our focus areas for this research and development:

Foundations of data infrastructure

Having a strong data infrastructure is vital. It connects different parts of our society and economy, and underpins everything from business innovation to public services and civil society. We have created guidance and reports and looked at the necessary regulations in order to strengthen data infrastructure for the benefit of all.

Stewarding data

In order to realise the value of shared data while limiting potential harm, it is necessary for data stewards - those who are responsible for the data they hold - to make important decisions. We have conducted extensive research into data stewardship, examining collaborative data maintenance and models of sustainable data access institutions which can help avoid ‘data hoarding’ and drive positive outcomes. 

Open data

When data is published openly, others can use it and create value from it. Data publishing gets data to people and – to be of value – needs to be high quality, timely and affordable. At the ODI, we worked on ways to help open data publishers improve their processes.

Data strategy and innovation

A robust data strategy is crucial to an organisation’s success - yet there are challenges and barriers that need to be faced. We produced tools and guidance to help organisations develop data strategies to encourage innovation, improve efficiency and address challenges, while complying with regulations and maintaining trust.

Data and modelling

Creating models with data can provide insights into complicated problems. They can be used to predict outcomes, provide insights and inform decision making. We explored various uses for models - including a project on Digital Twins - and shared the lessons we learned.

Personal data and trust

At the ODI, we believe data should be as open as possible, while protecting people’s privacy. In order to share data openly, we need to be able to trust the parties with whom we are sharing that data, and we explored the issue as part of our Innovate UK-funded R&D programme.

Data for open cities and local authorities

Using data well in public services can help streamline processes, improve access to information for citizens and enable innovators – but local authorities face consistent challenges in practice. We conducted research and created tools and workshops to help, as well as funding pilot projects and researching open versus smart cities.

International data flows and collaboration

Global trade in data-enabled goods and services has the potential to boost economic growth across the world, but sharing data across borders is sensitive and raises legal, cultural and practical issues. Data infrastructure needs to be taken into account when policymaking in international trade, and we have investigated related issues, as well as working towards setting up peer networks. 

What this means for the future

Conducting mission-focused R&D on data for the UK and the world remains at the heart of the ODI’s work. We have run many R&D projects outside of this programme, funded by and in partnership with academia, governments, companies and philanthropic organisations.

Building on the success of this programme, and of our research and development work more broadly, we plan to continue this work at the ODI.

From April 2021, we are launching a number of new R&D projects and activities. Many of these new projects will further explore topics and develop tools from this programme. For example, we will further research the UK and international data assurance ecosystem and develop data assurance products and the guidance that enables them to be adopted. We will also be developing new research themes around data institutions, including; exploring the role of data institutions in low- and middle-income countries; the public perception of data institutions; and policy and economic considerations for the UK. And we will be building on existing data publishing and stewardship work to clarify the roles and activities that data platforms of the future should enable.

Several of these projects will be part of a new Evidence and Foresight programme, which aims to inspire, inform and influence the influencers of the data ecosystem – policymakers, regulators, advocates, researchers and advisors – and will also be the home of our Research Fellows and Data as Culture programmes.

Get in touch to discuss our R&D programme

We are looking to hear from new funders and partners who would like to be a part of this broad and ambitious research and development agenda.