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Analysis of urban ‘big data’ can yield new understanding of the social, environmental or economic activities of a city


from three interconnected data strands leading to novel, linked data: a representative household questionnaire-based survey on travel, literacy, energy use etc; sensing data through participants’ use of GPS and lifelogging; and internet-based visual and textual information. These and other data collected by the UBDC will provide opportunities for social scientists wanting to understand the complexity of urban decision-making as well as the possible influences of contextual factors.


Consumer Data


Research Centre


An ESRC Data Investment


Consumer Data Research Centre: Led by Professor Mark Birkin at the University of Leeds and Professor Paul Longley at University College London ‘Big data’ provide a shared focus of interest between academia, policy research and business. Key to this is the vast amount of consumer data (loyalty schemes, telephone records etc) collected by businesses on a daily basis. Analysis of these data can help us to better understand society and the challenges we face in a range of areas, including health, crime and the economy. To date, these data have not been widely analysed by academics for two reasons. First, unlike data provided by central or local government, there has previously been little perceived advantage within business organisations and therefore no strong downward pressure to make data available for wider re-use. Second, few business organisations are monopolies so their data only offer part of the picture, making it necessary and requiring skills to link business sources to more inclusive and


exhaustive data sources such as the census, or to adopt other methods, such as modelling. The Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) is working with business organisations to open up these data resources, in a safe and secure way, for use by the academic community, and increasing understanding in the industry of the potential value of the data they hold and how it can be utilised to improve the strategic decision-making process. The Centre is working on driver projects particularly relating to mobility patterns and


sustainable consumption, exploring areas such as: n The geography of fuel poverty and how better targeting of home insulation incentives may alleviate it.


n How the health of local communities is affected by the availability of healthy eating choices.


n How the future vitality of the UK’s high streets is affected by online retailing and how new shopping behaviours can co-exist with the old. The Centre is working with key partners


to establish a network of high-impact research projects using big data, and is always keen to speak to colleagues with new ideas. The three Centres within the Big Data Network Phase 2 have distinct focuses but are all concerned with using ‘big data’ to help local government and businesses develop new understanding of trends and relationships within society. Data really is helping shape our society for the better. n


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For more information or to get involved with the work of the Centres, please see:


www.ubdc.ac.uk www.blgdataresearch.org www.cdrc.ac.uk


SOCIETY NOW SPRING 2015 25


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