Business and Local Government Data Research Centre

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Computer Sci and Electronic Engineering


An ambition to be the world's most innovative economy is set out in the UK Government Industrial Strategy. Local authorities and businesses possess large amounts of data covering every aspect of their daily activities. While this resource is valuable, the opportunity for transformative change in business models in public and private sectors comes from adopting data science and artificial intelligence techniques and embedding them as an analytical layer in every stage of decision making. Transforming data to knowledge with the help of advanced analytics can provide local authorities and businesses additional information which can help them to design better policies and improve their business operations.
The Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (BLG DRC) aims to enable a step change in the way public sector organisations and businesses make use of and harness the power of their data through advanced analytics. As such, BLG DRC will coalesce a number of research strands in social sciences, data science and AI within University of Essex and will provide the synergetic scope required to make significant new breakthroughs in social sciences and methodological research. The primary stakeholders of BLG DRC will continue to be local authorities and businesses, but we will expand our remit of work and collaborations to the wider public sector as well as internationally.
BLG DRC's mission places stakeholders and users at its heart, and the research programme of work will be user-driven and involve an ethos of co-creation with external partners and stakeholders. The comprehensive integrated outreach programme which consists of training and knowledge exchange activities will ensure an ongoing dialogue with the users and stakeholders of the research and project partners including policy makers and that the project outputs will have lasting impact beyond the life of the Centre. In particular, focusing on the public sector and working with our regional partners, Essex County Council (ECC), Essex Police (EP), Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) and others, BLG DRC will serve as a joined up, system-wide public sector AI and data science hub where the focus of the work will be on improving lives and generating efficiency in public services through embedding of novel data science techniques and AI. We have also partnered with businesses who wish to understand how we can foster and support economic growth, particularly for small and medium enterprises and start-ups. We aim to explore the barriers these businesses face and how data science and AI can help us understand the best means of overcoming these.
The overall programme of work is divided into two strands which are strongly interlinked: (i) developing new research and interdisciplinary capacity, and (ii) delivering and further expanding our integrated outreach programme. The programme has been designed to maximise the impact of both existing activity and also engage in new research that will have direct and significant impact at the regional and national level. Our users and stakeholders will continue to play a key role in shaping up the programme of work on the one hand benefitting from the research and integrated outreach programme while on the other directly feeding in challenges and problems with respect to socio-economic research and the development of new methods needed to address these problems so that the take-up of our work can be maximised. Building on our successful substantive socio-economic programme of research and methodological research stream, we aim to further develop and undertake new research in three core areas: (i) Support for Vulnerable People; (ii) Supporting Economic Growth; (iii) Methodologies and Techniques for Data Science and AI. The new phase of BLG DRC promises to be an exciting development that will not only advance knowledge but also benefit our community.

Planned Impact

Non-academic beneficiaries of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (BLG DRC) include a range of organisations and individuals, operating at different levels.
BLG DRC mission and focus place stakeholders and users at its heart, and the research programme of work will be user-driven and involve an ethos of co-creation with external partners and stakeholders. This ensures on the one hand that our research remains relevant and close to the problems as experienced by organisations, while on the other hand it maximises the potential for impact and take-up of our research.
Key beneficiaries of the Centre's work include:
1) Businesses will have access to new techniques which can improve their decision processes and training activities will build their capacity in data science and AI to improve their productivity and decision-making. Research on digital leadership and organisational transformation will be relevant and could have implications for organisational development strategies.
2) Business organisations such as the CBI and Institute of Directors will benefit through better understanding their constituents' needs and priorities and how data science and AI can be used to support business development.
3) Local authorities will benefit from AI-driven transformation of public service delivery that allows them to reduce the administrative burden and deliver services for the benefit of communities under decreasing budgets.
4) Local government officers, Councillors and the Local Government Association, County, Borough and unitary authorities in the UK are responsible for a number of services addressed. The focus on vulnerable people, health and social care and supporting economic growth are all relevant. We expect considerable impacts on practice in the provision of services.
5) Government department researchers and policy makers. The methodological developments and substantive research will provide a model of relevance for all areas of the UK. The likely impact is significant as new ways of utilising data science and AI are developed.
6) Government executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies, parliamentary select committees and quangos. Many will have interests in data science and AI, and we expect agencies such as e.g. DCMS, HMRC, DFID, Cabinet Office, Dstl, and DWP to be beneficiaries of the research.
7) The international policy community. Methodological and substantive research will be relevant to other countries and developments around the use of AI and Data Science in the public sector and business contexts. We envisage working with the EU Joint Research Centre on AI aspects of smart specialisation and anticipate considerable international impact.
8) NGOs, think tanks, charities and independent research organisations will benefit including for example the New Economics Foundation, the Institute for Public Policy Research, Age UK, the Transport Research Laboratory, the Child Poverty Action Group, and Demos.
9) The general public will benefit through more informed policy-making and an awareness of the benefits of data science and AI can provide including reduction in administrative burden and more targeted provision of public services. Benefits will accrue through the provision of better quality, more effective and targeted services and through new public or firm level policies for the benefit of community. Fair, transparent, and ethical use of AI for the benefit of society will also build trust and public confidence. We expect findings to be reported in news media and to stimulate public debate.
10) As the BLG DRC positively influences policy across a range of areas at both regional and national levels, society as a whole will benefit through improved quality of life via improved public health and better social support for vulnerable people, economic growth, and technological advances.


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