We have provided answers to some frequently asked questions on this page.

If you are not able to find the answer to your question, please contact us.

How is UBDC funded?

UBDC is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the University of Glasgow. Our first period of funding ran from 2014 to 2019. Our second period runs through to January 2024. We also attract funding for specific projects from a wide range of organisations across public, private and third sectors.

 

The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high-quality research that has an impact on business, the public sector and civil society. ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which brings together the UK’s seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish.

What does UBDC do?

We promote the use of big data and innovative research methods to improve social, economic and environmental well-being in cities.

 

We deliver analyses which have demonstrable impacts on public policy, society and industry. We do this by publishing world-leading research in the social sciences and other disciplines, but also by working closely with partners from government, industry and the third sector. UBDC’s key research strands are Education and skills; Housing and neighbourhoods; Transport and infrastructure; Urban governance.

 

We work to enhance the quality of urban big data and methods for urban analytics to support the work of others. We provide access to a wide variety of big data through our data service. But we also provide critical analysis of the value of these for understanding urban conditions.

 

We offer a centre-of-excellence for teaching and capacity building in urban big data and urban analytics. We run two MSc programmes, have an active community of PhD researchers and provide numerous short courses.

What do you mean by ‘big data’?

We take the term ‘big data’ to refer to a wide range of different kinds of data which usually originate outside of the conventional social research processes which produce datasets such as Censuses and household surveys. These include data produced as a by-product of running businesses or public services; data produced through sensors such as environmental sensors or CCTV systems; and data volunteered by individuals through their use of social media or apps.

 

Some people use the terms ‘new forms of data’ and ‘naturally-occurring data’ to refer to the same or closely related things.

 

A commonly-used framework identifies the characteristics and challenges of big data through the three Vs. They may be particularly large in scale (‘volume’), posing new challenges for data management and analysis, although this is not usually the main challenge we have to deal with in our data collections. They may come from heterogeneous sources (‘variety’) with different ways of identifying individuals, places or other characteristics, posing challenges for data integration and analysis. And they may flow in real-time (‘velocity’), so presenting particular challenges of data capture, management and integration.

 

In much of our work, we pay particularly close attention to a fourth V – ‘validity’ or ‘veracity’. As the processes which produce this data are often unclear compared with traditional social research data, we need to work hard to understand how well they capture the social world: who is included or over-represented, and who is left out of the picture if we use these new forms data to study cities?

What is the benefit of using big data in research?

Big data can help researchers in their efforts to understand a wide range of social and economic patterns and processes where conventional forms of social research data are inadequate. With small groups within society, surveys rarely have sufficient data to permit proper analysis so the scale of big data can help here; large datasets from the administration of public services are one example. Where social trends unfold rapidly (for example, the development of short-term property rentals for tourism through Airbnb and similar companies), developments in surveys or statistics may lag far behind. Big data from business systems or web scraping may enable a much more rapid response, providing policy-makers with the information they need when discussing how to respond. Some aspects of modern life such as social media usage exist solely online so are best studied using the data generated through those activities directly.

 

Despite its many strengths, we do not think big data will ever be able to answer all the questions we want to ask about our cities. Often, we get the most value from big data when we combine it with traditional sources and with other, qualitative forms of research. For example, we use data from the Census and surveys to give us a benchmark against which we can judge the quality (validity) of new data sources. We combine traditional and new forms of data to get the best of both or link multiple sources of big data to enhance the quality of the information.

What information is linked in UBDC research projects?

Data linking is the joining together of multiple datasets from the same or different sources to create a more comprehensive data collection which can be used to address a wider range of questions than individual datasets.

 

Some data can be linked using locational information. For example, we might link data on trips and falls in public places with data on pavement repairs to understand the impact of street maintenance on accident rates. We can do this using locational information, without needing any information on the individuals suffering accidents.

 

Other data are linked using information about individuals. For example, we can link data on people who receive social care services with data on who uses health services to better understand how the two interact as this project showed. When we make links between datasets in this way, we go to great lengths to ensure we protect individual privacy and keep personal identifiers from researchers. See the Scottish Informatics and Linkage Collaboration (SILC) website for more information on how this works.

Can I see the results of the research?

Research from the Centre is made available in a wide range of ways. We often publish papers in academic journals and, where we do, we try to ensure that these are freely available. Copies may also be available from the individual academics through services such as ResearchGate or academia.edu. We also publish a range of working papers, briefing papers and short blogs on our website.

Do you share your data and methods?

We are committed to openness and transparency in our research. There is more information on access to the data we use below but our principle is to share data freely wherever possible. Where data cannot be shared openly due to licensing restrictions, we identify clearly where others can access the data for themselves. We also seek to publish full methodological details and make available the code used in our analyses.

 

What is the UBDC’s National Data Service?

We provide researchers with access to a wide range of big data and training on how to use it. Our data collections include:

  • Open data that is available to everyone with minimal restrictions on use
  • Safeguarded data that has some restrictions required by data owners, so users need to sign an end-user licence agreement before they access it
  • Controlled data that is limited to accredited users and accessible only in highly secure environments.

Is UBDC's data service free for all users?

UBDC’s service for accessing data is free at the point of use. Restrictions on access may be imposed by the original data owners, limiting who can access which data collections and for what purposes.

 

We have data scientists who can assist with proposal development, data sourcing and data management. This resource is limited, so please contact us to discuss your requirements. If you need research staff or other resources, you must provide these or the funds to support them.

Who can access the data?

Anyone can access our open data although there may be some restrictions on what these can be used for (e.g. limited to non-commercial uses).

 

With safeguarded data, access depends on the restrictions imposed by the original data owners. At a minimum, we negotiate access for non-commercial research by UK academics. Many data owners are happy for other users to have access, sometimes including those outside the UK.

 

The controlled data service, which supports access to administrative data, is only for data from UK organisations and applicants are rigorously reviewed. In general, only UK-based researchers or policymakers would be considered.

 

All applications to use our data service are considered on an individual basis.

 

If you are interested in any other type of international research collaboration, please contact us.

I’m a data owner. What are the benefits of sharing data with researchers?

Sharing your data with the research community via UBDC’s expert services can reveal and validate its value as a key source of evidence for policy development or as a means of generating economic impact. UBDC can act as a single point of access to your data for the research community.

 

Many organisations that gather or accumulate large quantities of data lack the resources to curate and analyse it. They may need research skills or other resources to realise their data’s potential for transforming planning or services. UBDC can work with you to help develop these.

 

Find out more about how your organisation can benefit from sharing your data with researchers on our Information for Data Owners page.

What are personal data?

The term ‘personal data’ is defined in the GDPR as follows:

 

“‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person”.

 

This means personal data must be information that relates to an individual. That individual must be identified or identifiable either directly or indirectly from one or more identifiers or factors specific to the individual.

What is the difference between 'de-identified' and 'anonymised' data?

‘De-identified’ data refers to data where any element that directly identifies an individual is completely removed from the dataset. This includes data attributes such as name, address, tax reference number or National Insurance number.

 

The Information Commissioner's Office defines anonymisation of data as the process of turning data into a form which does not identify individuals and where identification is not likely to take place, allowing for much wider use of the source.

How does UBDC protect personal data?

Information security management is of utmost importance to UBDC. Information that is held by the Centre is subjected to a range of information security controls based on the ISO 27001 series of standards. The third-party services, providing linkage and access to controlled data, are also ISO 27001 compliant.

 

Controls include:

  • Secure data provisioning and backup delivered through state-of-the-art secure data technology
  • Robust information governance procedures based on approved researchers, users and organisations
  • Secure File Transfer Protocols to support the transmission of data
  • Separation of roles and robust indexing procedures designed to minimise risks of breaching individuals' privacy when using confidential, sensitive data
  • Data linkages created and maintained using rigorous, internationally accepted privacy-preserving protocols, direct or probabilistic matching, with clerical review available where required to increase matching accuracy where required
  • Secure environments for researchers to analyse anonymised individual level or summarised records
  • Restricted access to securely stored confidential data including statistical disclosure control methods on statistical outputs, such as graphics, tables or regression analyses.

How do I know that people using personal data will be responsible?

  • Every researcher is accredited. Accredited researchers have specific training to ensure that they understand how to access controlled datasets safely and securely. Training covers: data security and personal responsibility, including legal background; security models; breaches and penalties; statistical disclosure control to ensure that all outputs are safe to use and do not identify individuals.
  • In addition to civil and criminal penalties for data breach and misuse, sanctions are in place for data breaches in applicable cases. These may include exclusion from use of data services and loss of eligibility for future ESRC funding.
  • Each project is assessed by a research approvals process undertaken by independent experts, sometimes in association with the data provider.
  • Researchers must take a compulsory training programme in administrative data management and security standards.
  • Researchers are required to sign a declaration to confirm that they understand their responsibilities and obligations.

Do you sell personal data?

No, the UBDC is not a commercial enterprise or marketing organisation. We never sell personal data. Where we agree to provide access to safeguarded or controlled data for researchers, the service is free to the researcher. The costs are covered by our ESRC funding.

How does UBDC oversee the safe use of data?

Our Director reports to the Economic and Social Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and is accountable to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). UBDC is also governed by an independent Advisory Group, chaired by Prof. David Bannister, University of Oxford.

Will data be used for commercial purposes?

The primary use of data is for research which generates outputs that enhance our understanding of society. Sometimes our societal goals, such as better targeting of energy efficiency measures or improving public transport services, are most effectively achieved in partnership with commercial interests. However, any commercial use of data will be dependent upon the license terms associated with that dataset which are determined by the original data owner.

Where are data stored?

Open and safeguarded data held by the Centre is stored in a secure location at the University of Glasgow.

 

Controlled data is held with the electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS). This is a highly secure computing environment, where it is possible to closely monitor who works on the data and ensure no personal data leaves the system. Controlled datasets constructed for each project are destroyed on completion of the research.

Do you run training courses?

We run training courses and skills development events for different audiences including technical, methodological and policy-focused sessions.

 

A full list of upcoming events is available on this site, with other training opportunities and resources.

Do you have any job vacancies or internships?

All advertised positions and opportunities to work with us will appear on our Opportunities & Vacancies page.

 

If you are looking for research and studying opportunities, please see our PhD Research and MSc Programmes pages.

 

To keep up to date with future opportunities, subscribe to our email newsletter and follow us on social media.

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