Social Data Science Lab Awarded Core Funding from ESRC

11 November 2016

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The Social Data Science Lab has been made part of the £64M Big Data Network for the Social Sciences via a £700,000 grant

The new grant from the Economic and Social Research Council will fund the core activities of the Lab over the next 3 years. The Lab brings together social and computer scientists to study the methodological, ethical, theoretical, and technical dimensions of New and Emerging Forms of Data in social and policy contexts. The Lab was established in 2015 and builds on the successful COSMOS programme of research that ran between 2011-2015.

Co-Director of the Lab, Professor Matt Williams, from the School of Social Sciences said “The majority of individuals currently under 20 years of age in the Western world were ‘born digital’ and will not recall a time without access to the Internet. Combined with the migration of the ‘born analogue’ generation onto the Internet, fueled by the rise of social media, we have seen the exponential growth of online spaces for the mass sharing of opinions and sentiments. No study of contemporary society can ignore this dimension of social life. However, there currently exist methodological and infrastructural barriers that prevent the widespread use of ‘big social data’ in the social sciences, and this new funding will help the Lab realise its mission to democratise access to big social data among the academic, public and third sectors.”

The Government’s Policy Paper ‘Seizing the data opportunity: A strategy for UK data capability’ identified big data as one of the UK’s ‘eight great technologies’. The Labs’s empirical social data science programme is complemented by a focus on the development of new methodological tools and technical/data solutions for the UK academic and public sectors to enhance the UK’s capability in big social data analytics. They are assisting several government departments, law enforcement agencies, private corporations and charities to realize the potential of these data via RCUK research projects and knowledge transfer partnerships.

Dr. Pete Burnap, Co-Director of the Lab and Social Computing Research Priority Area lead in the School of Computer Science and Informatics, said “New forms of digital online social data, handled by computational methods, allow social and computer scientists to gain meaningful insights into contemporary social processes at unprecedented scale and speed. How we marshal these new forms of data present key challenges for researchers. The potential for world leading computational social science research that uses new forms of data is currently limited by the lack of existing reliable research infrastructure, such as software tools designed for social scientists. This core funding will allow Lab staff to dedicate the required time to develop and test these tools in research and policy contexts”.

The new grant will provide funds for a new Lab Research Fellow, dedicated computer and social science investigator time to develop new big data tools, and an advanced training programme in social data science analytics, that will educate researchers from academic, public and third sectors on how to use both quantitative and qualitative techniques to analyse new and emerging forms of online data.

The funding will see the Lab formalise its strategic research and training partnerships with a range of ESRC investments, including WISERD, ADRC Wales, CLOSER, NCRM, UK Data Archive and the Big Data Network. It will also provide resources to support its existing research partnerships with the Metropolitan Police Service, London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, Office for National Statistics, Food Standards Agency, Department for International Development, Welsh Government, Airbus, Admiral Insurance, and US Department of Justice.

Lab Directors Professor Matthew Williams and Dr. Pete Burnap were appointed to the ESRC Phase 3 Big Data Network Working Group in 2014.