Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


Describe the proposed research in simple terms in a way that could be publicised to a general audience (up to 4000 chars)
Social science is concerned with understanding human behaviour patterns. These patterns are increasingly revealed through data which are captured by retailers and other commercial organisations. Example sources of these data include store loyalty cards, smart energy meters, mobile telephone logs, vehicle registrations and smart tickets for trains and buses. The data are not just interesting to academics, they can provide important insights for delivering health care, building houses or roads, and producing sustainable goods and services with reduced environmental impact. This project seeks to develop new approaches to social science research which are needed to exploit new sources of consumer data. The ethical use of data for the public good and protecting the privacy, confidentiality and personal rights of individual consumers is of paramount importance.
This research is different for a number of reasons, for example, because activities can be examined continuously and in real time. In the past, a social scientist might have studied 'typical' commuting flows from a residence to a workplace. Now it is much easier to look at multi-purpose activities or trip-chaining in a single day e.g. delivering children to school, going to work, visiting the gym, having a coffee and doing the shopping before returning home. It requires new methods from artificial intelligence and data science which the project will help to develop. These methods are recognised by governments and business as crucial to future well-being and economic prosperity because data are now so widespread and their content is so revealing.
The outcomes from the project will include novel publications appearing in the scientific literature, but the research will also help businesses and government to plan more effectively, and it will train the next generation of students and research professionals in the applications and analysis of new and emerging forms of data.

Planned Impact

The project will have impact on business at both an operational and a strategic level. CDRC's ladder of engagement provides multiple touchpoints between research and implementation e.g. supervision and advice for PhD and MSc projects, interns working with commercial partners, attendance at training courses and seminars, co-production and delivery of academic content, data challenges and project support. In essence, all of these provide mechanisms for new skills, methods and insights to flow more easily across the boundaries between universities and industry. A good example from Phase 1 would be outcomes from a PhD project analysing point of sale data and customer transactions (loyalty card data) for a major supermarket, ;leading to new understanding of space-time signatures for different micro-locations, with implications for store design and format optimisation for new or existing stores, and acquisition/ valuation of new sites.
At a more strategic level, we will offer advice to industry groups and trade organisations e.g. building on established relationships with the Demographics User Group, Strategic Location Association, Market Research Society and our own CDRC User Forum. We will also continue to host international visitors and delegations to maximise awareness of applications to extract greater value from consumer data assets e.g. groups from China, India, Malaysia and the Baltic States have all been hosted within the last 12 months.
We have educated many students through a new MSc programme in consumer analytics, most of whom have progressed to employment in business, and we plan to develop a new MRes programme to encourage upskilling of existing staff around more intensive research-based training and project work.
CDRC's thematic research priorities are strongly aligned to central government interests, especially in health and transport. Our work is especially relevant to local government needs e.g. in housing, transport and social care. We will continue to provide advice to government through written evidence (e.g. Industrial Strategy, UKRI Roadmap), verbal evidence (Social Media Select Committee), participation in expert reviews (Bean Review, UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Government Office for Science) and bilateral meetings (Department for Transport, HMRC). On occasion we will arrange joint events e.g. ONS Big Data Workshop. We will also continue to deliver specific tools which support policy e.g. the Propensity to Cycle Tool commissioned by DfT, HABITS (with Newcastle City Council) and SPENSER (ongoing development for the National Infrastructure Commission) and other outputs from joint research projects (e.g. Ipswich, Coventry, Oxford Councils supported by journey planning apps in CATCH!). Whilst above examples are all from Phase 1, we expect relationships of this type to continue and grow in Phase 2.
We also expect ongoing international impact as the UK continues to lead the world in exploitation of consumer data for research e.g. advice to the Sloan Foundation, NSF, German Data Forum, EU-Nectar, Chinese Embassy, Malaysian Communications and Media Commission, British Embassy (Washington), Chinese Office for National Statistics.
We will seek to influence public policy in a positive way e.g. by presenting our research in an interesting and accessible way (through events like Be Curious, Leeds Digital Festival); by the creation of new research, especially on the theme of lifestyle cohorts; by appearance at public events e.g. British Academy, Leeds Data Salon; and through media including TV, internet and print.


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