“Being part of the collaborative hubs that form DDI opens up conversations that wouldn't normally be possible.”
We have a business plan across the three domains of research, insights and innovation. All of those areas can be revenue generating at different levels, which will make us commercially sustainable. As a business, this means we'll continue to deliver against our mission and our purpose, well beyond the initial 5 year funding provided by UKRI’s Strength in Places Fund.
2024 and the Edinburgh Futures Institute
We want to help improve people's lives through the power of data. We're a not for profit as part of the University of Edinburgh, so that helps us work in areas where other for profit organisations perhaps couldn't. And the fact that we're truly independent means that we have no bias: we're presenting the facts rather than trying to prove somebody else's hypothesis.
Looking to the future
Smart Foundry test project with East Renfrewshire Council
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hosts several tech sprints aimed at gathering innovators to address major issues in the market. One of these issues is the increasing problem of Authorised Push Payment fraud. To enable the innovators to work together and find solutions, the FCA required data to be shared - a difficulty because of the commercial sensitivities of working with crime data. At Smart Data Foundry we created synthetic financial data that looked like current account data but had deliberate fraud activity seeded into it. For example, synthetic mobile phone record data that allowed you to see somebody receiving a text message and see activity on their account. As a result, the tech sprint participants were starting to understand how fraud happens, how they could spot it, and what they could put in place to try to stop it. Having synthetic data at that scale for that sort of level of involvement is absolutely unique.
DDI has been incredibly useful for Smart Data Foundry. The initial seed funding got us going in terms of writing the bid application that secured our financial foundation, and being able to access the hubs of DDI has been vital. We’ve been able to form relationships with the Usher Institute to look at how we can bring together the potential of financial data with health data - projects and research that could be real game-changers.
The foundations of Smart Foundry.
Since 2019, Smart Data Foundry’s driving purpose has been to help improve people’s lives through unlocking the power of financial data. We do that in three ways. We use real data shared with us by some of our data partners for research and for insights, and we create and generate synthetic data to help ignite and drive innovation.
“Smart Data Foundry is an organisation with a defined purpose to help improve people’s lives through unlocking the power of financial data.”
Smart Data Foundry
Head of Marketing and Communications
at Smart Data Foundry.
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The impact of our efforts on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is tangible, offering them a valuable tool and a resource for engaging with audiences, providing opportunities to view and explore the city from the unique Fringe perspective. For artists participating in the Fringe, this project introduces practical possibilities. It enables them to systematically examine and map the movements of their audiences throughout the city, empowering them to make informed decisions around show promotion strategies and optimising ticket sales. Our continued progress demonstrates how data and creativity can work together to produce positive social change.
Working with funding and support from the DDI initiative and Creative Informatics, we have been able to focus on the idea of social innovation, aiming not only to address the data’s representation on the map, but also to understand how various stakeholders, including Fringe audiences, artists, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, could make meaningful use of the data in their own spaces.
In this inaugural phase, our project teams embarked on a significant exploration of the principles of open access data. The insights gained during this phase have paved the way for further developments in the project and identified growth areas to enhance the map’s functionality, formulating new research enquiries, and potentially integrating additional open access data sources. This expansion aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse populations present in Edinburgh during the festival period.
Vikki Jones on the journey towards Creative Informatics
“The creative industries are looking for innovative ways to challenge existing thinking, make new projects, make new decisions and further support data-driven decision making.”
Creative Informatics forms part of the AHRC funded Creative Industries Clusters Programme and is a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Codebase and Creative Edinburgh. The project, funded by the DDI initiative, uses data pertaining to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a primary objective of exploring how we could use it to yield valuable insights into the preferences and behaviour of the festival’s attendees within the City of Edinburgh.
“Over the past five years, DDI and the Creative Informatics project have kickstarted a conversation about how data can make waves in the cultural space.”
Collaborative Edinburgh Festivals Data: open audience insights from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
at Creative Informatics.
“It's the whole Scottish population that we studied, which puts the UK in a phenomenally powerful place. I think the opportunities for improving outcomes in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and so on, are unprecedented.”
I'm incredibly proud that we've got a phenomenal team of colleagues who pulled together at a time of national need and were able to deliver high quality, highly impactful work. Remember, these analyses were high stakes. They were done at speed, and on very large populations. They were fed into policymakers in as close to real time as we could. And it led to important policy changes across Scotland, the UK and indeed, globally.
“The vaccines were probably even more effective in preventing hospitalisations than the trials suggested. And the reason for that is that they were being rolled out in high-risk populations to begin with. That work led to considerable public confidence in vaccine effectiveness.”
In terms of being able to help disseminate and communicate the work that we were doing nationally and internationally, DDI has taken us to sectors that were perhaps not immediately on our radar. It's been an incredibly valuable relationship that will continue to prove important as we use cases beyond the pandemic.
We're in this incredibly privileged position that the work from EAVE II has been phenomenally impactful. We were able to produce the world's first estimates around the real world effectiveness of the first dose of the vaccines. And this was done within six to eight weeks of vaccines being rolled out.
The Usher / EAVE II team
“When COVID-19 broke, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport in the Scottish Government asked us to expand the platform. And so we moved from 250,000 people to 5.4 million people – virtually the entire Scottish population.”
The EAVE II-Platform involved academic partners across Scotland working in collaboration with Public Health Scotland. One of the most rewarding aspects of this was fostering a genuine team science approach. We had academic colleagues from across Scotland, many of whom volunteered, and others joined because we needed their specific expertise. People were able to leave their institutional, disciplinary considerations at the door and actually engage for the benefit of Scotland and the UK. Not only that, we had a brilliant and diverse, multi-disciplinary team. We had senior investigators, clinical academics, colleagues with expertise in data infrastructure, data scientists, patient public involvement colleagues, and also those with expertise around how to engage with policymakers to disseminate the work.
Expansion of the programme
This initiative started about a decade ago during the last pandemic that we experienced, H1N1, or more commonly known as Swine Flu. At that time, we created a national data platform across Scotland. It was called the Early Assessment of Vaccine Effectiveness (EAVE), which aimed to assess how well vaccines were working during a pandemic. Once Swine Flu came to an end, we put that platform into what's known as hibernation. So if there was a need for it to be brought out of hibernation in the context of any future pandemic, then hopefully we would be ready - little did we know what was around the corner.
“The aim of the EAVE II Project was to support national and international responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Usher/ EAVE II Project
Sir Aziz Sheikh, Professor of Primary Care Research and Development, Director of the Usher Institute and Dean of Data at the University of Edinburgh