CINITDIEN - Championing INnovation In The DIgital ENvironment

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


The Digital Economy already represents a substantive part of the UK economy, and this importance will increase over the immediate future. The UK Government has recognised the importance of the Digital Economy, supporting numerous activities and initiatives. Harnessing the potential of the Digital Environment will ensure that NERC science, capitalising on the substantial NERC investments in digital and sensor infrastructure, becomes solution-driven, delivering impact not only to traditional impact stakeholders such as policymakers and implementation bodies (e.g. Defra, EA, Natural England) but also engaging and leveraging considerable industrial know-how to co-develop these solutions. Industry engagement is also critical, in our view, to develop the digital solutions that will become more widely available to a wide range of users, from local councils, to nature partnerships, as well as to the science community in academe, policy and agencies. Too many efforts and solutions in the environmental digital science community are developed by the scientific community for the scientific community, having only a limited policy relevance, but with no real practical outlet for these tools in the real world.

The programme, and position of Digital Environment Champion is an opportunity to change not only how NERC and UK science and policy community use, interact with and benefit from the knowledge and understanding that comes from data arising from sensor networks, combined with models and data science tools, but also how the wider community engages with, and benefits from this substantial investment.

The programme as described would draw across a number of digital platforms and initiatives to ensure a wide participation of the various communities active in the Digital Environment, from mathematicians and statisticians, to modellers, data scientists, software engineers and sensor specialists. It would also be solution-focused, and solution-driven, engaging with current policy challenges but whilst ensuring that the solutions envisioned prove useful to a wide range of end-users, from policy development to implementation, from academic pursuit to the environmental commercial sector.

Planned Impact

It is in fact a challenge to distinguish adequately between stakeholders and beneficiaries, as all the academic communities active in the Digital Environment Programme are both beneficiaries of the outcome of the programme and the Digital Environment champion role, as well as stakeholders in the programme. The same can be said of policy makers, professional practitioners and commercial entities. However, the principle benefits arising are expressed thus:

1) a far more effective, robust and informative environmental modelling and data science community, with a deeper and wider engagement from the mathematical and statistical communities;
2) a more secure, and better-informed policy making community, as the Digital Environment programme develops solutions to policy needs, both now and in the future;
3) better-equipped and rounded professionals serving in the areas of policy design, implementation and practice. The programme envisioned in the proposal, would deliver a roadmap to transforming the Digital Environment towards delivering solutions and tools that are accessible and usable by professionals in the environmental field, so ensuring that the best possible tools are being used to support decision making across a range of scales, for example from housing development and critical infrastructure decisions to flood defence and associated land resource planning.


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Festa D (2023) Unsupervised detection of InSAR time series patterns based on PCA and K-means clustering in International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation

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Todman LC (2023) 'Small Data' for big insights in ecology. in Trends in ecology & evolution

Description The Expert Network of the Constructing a Digital Environment (CDE) SPF programme was established in November 2019, and since then has had 39 early-career, senior and international Experts (as of Dec 2021) involved. The programme is also supporting two waves of 'Feasibility' projects and a series of Demonstrators, involving 32 Institutions, 45 Project Partners, and drawing on at least 26 digital technologies used. The Expert Network has a number of broad objectives ascribed to it, these having evolved as the network matures, but in summary: 1. To help develop, signpost, and document digital solutions and related 'best practices' (e.g. source code, sensor configurations, datasets and data management, repositories, etc.); 2. To build a community of practice around digital approaches for environmental science; 3. To support communities, businesses, local and national governments engage with digital solutions for both short term and longer-term environmental challenges. The Expert Network supports the overall CDE programme in its goal to develop actively a digitally-enabled environment through which the environment might be better understood and modelled, with more precision and at finer spatial and temporal resolutions, delivering benefits to policymakers, businesses, communities and individuals. To support these objectives, over the past 2 years, the network has supported and undertaken a very broad and diverse set of activities. Overall management of the network is made through a set of regular, virtual meetings in different environments - an all hands meeting which occurs circa every 6 months, and a bi-weekly 'hangout' meeting on Slack, as well as bespoke thematic workshops. Slack is also used more widely to hold all online discussions and correspondences. Activities to date Since its inception in 2019, there have been a large number of activities arising from the network: • A series of popular webinars held on topics, issues and items related to digital solutions, covering themes such as uncertainty estimation, visualisation and communication, and case studies. To date we have run the webinars in four series, providing continuity and coherence in the talks. The series have comprised: 1) 'Data for Decision Making' run by Dr Keith Shepherd, with a total 5 webinars (Nov 20 - Jan 21, with an extra talk in May 21); 2) 'Law and Ethics in the Digital Environment' run by Dr Burcu Yüksel Ripley, with a total 4 webinars (Feb 21 - Apr 21); 3) 'Sensing and Environment' run by Dr Liz Bagshaw with 5 webinars (Jun 21 - Oct 21); and currently 'Data management and analytical tools for environmental science', organised by a series of EDS staff as convenors, with 5 webinars (Nov 20 - Feb 22). The webinar series have a been a substantive success, with 75 subscribers to the YouTube channel, 1,700 views of the videos, 190 Hrs watching time (as of Dec 21). • A series of Digital Trails, in which users are enabled to discover NERC data and its uses. To date three such events have been organised, led by Dr Jenny Brown (Table 1) with a fourth trail being planned by BAS. A total of 105 entries were received across the 3 events run, with results and feedback passed back to the respective data centres. • Expert network driven 'horizon-scanning' process, which has involved a systematic process of capturing and collectively interpreting the implications of emerging digital issues and trends. This identified 8 emerging topics, namely: 1) AI-enhanced fine-scale environmental monitoring, 2) Adaptive autonomous environmental monitoring; 3) Independent, 'unpartisan' data centres: sharing data to support better science; 4) Realising the value of small data; 5) Communities empowered by collective intelligence; 6) Data-driven 'nudging' for large-scale shifts in environmental behaviours. Table 1 - Data trails Dates Event Supporting Organisations November 2020 From the river catchment to deep ocean UKCEH and BODC April 2021 From present to past: meteorology around the globe Met Office and CEDA September 2021 Going underground BGS • Digital twins of the natural environment; 8) Green 'certifications' for the environment. • A digital sprint comprising of an 'Ideathon' followed by 4 Hackathons to draw from key NERC digital assets and datasets to explore the environmental impacts and consequences of COVID-19. The 'Ideathon' was developed with Cranfield's Centre for Design (C4D), together with the Expert Network and NERC, and the topics selected were: 1) Hackathon 1: The impact of COVID-19 on Air Quality; 2) Hackathon 2: Building back better (Recovery); 3) Hackathon 3: Benefits of Ecosystem Services on COVID-19 related health incidence and 4) Hackathon 4: Visualising Risk of COVID-19. • Online presence through social media (Twitter, Blog posts, Linked-In). The CDE website is at
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic