ESRC Capital Funding: Social Data Science Lab - Continuation of Methods and Infrastructure Development for Open Data Analytics in Social Research

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Computer Science


The Social Data Science Lab has been established with the mission of democratising access to big social data among the academic, public and third sectors, and to support real-time social data analytics for research, policy & practice. The proposed capability project is designed to address existing technical and methodological shortcomings in our ability to marshal big social data for social research purposes. In particular, the project will provide enhanced and sustainable social media data collection and analysis technologies to academic, public and third sector researchers. This capability project will achieve this by:

1. Providing the required technical resource and expertise to: i) optimise existing Lab social media analytics technologies for more efficient social media data collection, transformation and analysis across operating platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac OS); ii) integrate existing social media analytics tools (such as demographic and text classification tools); iii) make existing Lab tools extendable by the researcher community; iv) adapt Lab tools to user requirements and changes in social media provider technologies (i.e API changes); and v) support researchers in their social media data and analysis needs via dedicated Lab training and working-papers;

2. Providing the required social science resource and expertise to: i) liaise with the researcher community to gather social media tool requirements; ii) liaise with ESRC administrative, local government and consumer big data centres; iii) write training materials and coordinate capability building activities; and iv) support researchers in their data and analysis queries;

3. Ensuring the required investigator time to: i) manage the optimisation and enhancement of Lab tools and to implement a 'sustainability' business model; ii) manage existing partnerships with public, private and third sector users and the various ESRC big data network centres in the UK and elsewhere; iii) develop new partnerships with data providers; and iv) inform and oversee the development of world-leading training and capability building in Big Social Data Analytics;

4. Exploring options for the sustainable processing of social media analytics within UK HE research infrastructure and providing an options paper for use by existing ESRC big data investments, and ultimately Phase 3 of the network.

Planned Impact

The project will have five main categories of beneficiary: (1) Academic communities in the fields of social science, computer science, health studies and medicine, and arts and humanities, (2) government agencies that have a remit to engage with big social data; (3) law enforcement agencies, (4) voluntary sector organisations, and (5) private corporations with an interest in big social data. The main activities to realising potential benefits to these groups are:

1. The provision of free access to Lab social media analytics technologies for not-for-profit use;

2. The provision of free access to Lab social media analytics capability building and training materials, including webinars and online support community;

3. The invitation to an International Conference on Computational Social Science;

4. The recruitment onto the MSc in Social Data Science Part-Time route;

5. The continued support of industry-Lab partnerships (with the likes of Admiral Insurance and Airbus);

6. The continued support of government-Lab partnerships (with the likes of the ONS Data Science Campus, Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Department for International Development)

7. The recruitment of non-academic government, voluntary and industry members onto the Steering Committee for the Lab social media analytics capability programme.

The Social Data Science Lab will leverage its existing relationships to achieve these activities. Existing links include 1) Private sector: Twitter US & UK; Google UK; Airbus Group; Admiral Insurance; RAND Corporation; RAND Europe; Fujitsu and High Performance Computing Wales; Sage Publications; and NatCen Social Research, 2) Public sector: Ministry of Justice; Home Office; Food Standards Agency; Department of Health; Department for International Development; Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus; Welsh Government; College of Policing; Metropolitan Police Service; City of London Police; UK Data Archive, and 3) Third sector: Tell Mama; Community Security Trust; Race Equality First; Stonewall.

Lab social media analytics technologies have been used by over 1000 organisations in over 30 countries, including all UK Russell Group universities, several top US universities (including Stanford, Cornell and MIT) and many non-academic institutions (including BBC; Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Citizens Foundation Iceland; Girl Guides; Dept. Work and Pensions; Bolton Council; MySociety; Police Foundation; West Midlans Police; CPS; Shelter; Scottish Government; Dept of Health; ONS; South Lanarkshire Council; Community Security Trust; Cabinet Office; College of Policing; Public Health Canada; Salvation Army; Institute for Sustainable Communication; Detroit Crime Commissions; Understanding Animal Research; British Geological Survey; Medway Council; European Space Agency; UK MOD Army; National Response Center for Cyber Crimes (Pakistan); National Library of Scotland; Dept. for Culture Media and Sport; HEFCW; Carmarthen County Council; Ceredigion Council; Airbus Group; British Institute of Human Rights; McKinsey; US Army; Fair Trials Intl.; Turkish National Police; Intl. Civil Society Centre; and Public Health England). We will provide all enhanced social media analytics technologies to these organisations and continue to support data and analysis needs where required and possible.

Cardiff University recognises the Social Data Science Lab's impact to date, and is supporting its impact plan going forward by locating it within the Nesta sponsored Social Science Research Park (SPARK). See Pathways to Impact for further details.


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