Business and Local Government Data Research Centre

News and Blog

Keep up to date with the latest news and blog posts from the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre and our partners.

News

2021

8th March - Our new research finds variation in the timing of COVID-19 communication across universities in the UK due to a range of factors

During the COVID-19 pandemic, universities in the UK used social media to raise awareness and provide guidance and advice about the disease to students and staff. In our latest research, the researchers explain why some universities used social media to communicate with stakeholders sooner than others.

To do so, the team used computer science methods to identify the date of the first COVID-19 related tweet posted by each university in the country and used survival models to estimate the effect of university-specific characteristics on the timing of these messages.

The results published in PLOS ONE, found that universities with larger numbers of students are more likely to use social media and the web to speak about the pandemic sooner than institutions with fewer students. Universities with larger financial resources are also more likely to tweet sooner, but they do not introduce Covid-19 webpages faster than other universities. We also find evidence of a strong process of emulation, whereby universities are more likely to post a coronavirus-related tweet or webpage if other universities have already done so.

Regarding the research, Professor Alejandro Quiroz Flores, deputy director of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (BLG) said ‘As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, higher education institutions emerged as a key source of trust. In order to explore the role of universities in the management of the crisis in the UK, an interdisciplinary team of social and computer scientists at the BLG and London South Bank University joined forces to design one of the first studies of the timing of university crisis communication in the UK during the pandemic.’

‘In one of our most striking results, we find that universities learn from each other. This suggests that there is a space for leadership and an opportunity for coordination during crises, which could allow the system to learn more quickly and respond more effectively to emergencies.

At the BLG, we are particularly proud of this research project, as it is an excellent example of the approach that the Centre and its partners use to understand crucial policy challenges using data and rigorous quantitative and computational methods.’

In addition to Professor Alejandro Quiroz Flores, the research was completed by senior research officers Dr Farhana Liza, Dr Husam Quteineh and Associate Professor Dr Barbara Czarnecka.


Read the paper on PLOS

6th March - The Centre welcomes political scientist Dr Wahideh Achbari to the team

Adding to the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre’s multi-disciplinary team, Dr Achbari provides an additional layer of expertise in data analytics. With specialisms in advanced quantitative research methods and analysis, our partners will now benefit from even greater data analytics support including areas such as social cohesion, crime, generalised trust, ethnic diversity and inequality.

Dr Achbari explores fascinating research areas. She aims to understand the processes behind crime, the creation and loss of generalised trust, and confidence in governments as well as the effect of ethnic diversity and inequality on these phenomena. Dr Achbari reported ‘Throughout my career, I have aspired to pose and answer research questions that follow from methodological and empirical lacunas, which have dictated collecting novel data and employing cutting-edge techniques.’

With clarity and motivation, Dr Achbari described her two main objectives within the Centre as ‘(1) to provide practitioners with behavioural insights for public policy in the face of uncertainty; (2) to contribute to theory-driven social science research by means of causal inference.’

Project Manager, Nigel Kirby added ‘We are delighted to welcome Wahideh. With her research specialisms, she will make an immediate impact to our stakeholders whilst contributing towards the Centre's fundamental research and data analytics.’

The innovative approach taken by the senior research officers including Dr Achbari ensures organisations from a broad range of sectors feel the full benefit that data analytics has to offer. The Centre’s team of senior research officers provide data analytics training, present at international events as well as deliver high profile projects funded through the Data Analytics Innovation Voucher scheme.

Dr Achbari said ‘I am pleased to join the Centre and look forward to working with organisations across the UK to explore their data needs. It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to turn my research into outputs that extend beyond the academic world and into those that have the potential to improve society and influence policy for the greater good.'

2021 looks set to bring new challenges in the wake of an era of pandemics. But challenges bring new opportunities, opportunities to make full use of the data analytics capabilities the Centre possesses, through research driven approaches that combine the very best of human potential, AI and machine learning. This is why the effective use of data is needed now more than ever for both business and the public and third sectors.

26th Feb - New vacancy: Senior Research Officer

Due to the continued success of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, we are seeking a highly motivated, enthusiastic, and professional candidate who has a quantitative social sciences background.

Join our passionate multidisciplinary team, to turn your expertise in socio-economic research into impact creating change at a local and national level.  Progress your social sciences research into transformative change, influencing policy, and improving practice.

This role is ideal for those with an excellent publication record and those with a potential to develop an internationally leading profile in the field.

If you are a data scientist or researcher with expertise including (but not limited) to preventative public policy, economic growth, crime or health research, then this is the role for you.

You will have the opportunity to work across the three Business and Local Government Data Research Centre priority areas of:

  • Supporting vulnerable people (such as identifying potential contributors to mental health crises in people with existing mental health problems; supporting mental health from the first point of contact; preventative public services models).
  • Understanding factors affecting economic growth (such as predictive models; understanding SMEs absorptive capacity).
  • Methodologies and techniques for data science and artificial intelligence.

This unique role is part-funded by the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as well as the University of Essex, which has been the intellectual home of the world’s leading experts in data science for over 50 years.

You can view the job advert and apply online.

2020

New funding round for data analytics support opens

The Business and Local Government Data Research Centre has launched its next round of funding enabling organisations across the UK to receive thousands of pounds worth of data analytics support.

Businesses, charities and the public sector have a unique opportunity to engage with the Centre's senior research officers to bring a research project to life. Now more than ever, organisations need to turn data into insight for informed decision making, predict future demand and make full use of the knowledge that data can bring.

As part of the Centre's 'Bounce back from COVID-19' support being provided to organisations, it is delivering a webinar on how to apply for a Data Analytics Innovation Voucher on Zoom on 9th September 2020.

This webinar is designed to give organisations the essential information required to apply for grant funded data analytics support.

Applications will be opening on 31st August, with a deadline of 31st October 2020, so now is the ideal time to begin planning your application.

The Centre welcomes Dr Chatsiou to the team

Adding to the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre's international team of experts, Dr Chatsiou brings a wealth of experience on natural language processing and programme evaluation, enhancing the Centre's ability to support organisations with their data analytics needs.

Dr Chatsiou’s research focuses on applying innovative models of text mining to address key challenges when analysing textual and other forms of unstructured data including political texts and social media.  A specialist in Natural Language Processing and with a proven track record of enhancing organisations' ability to use data, Dr Chatsiou has supported a range of public sector bodies and charities. She has worked on data analytics projects but embedding a legacy of data sustainability by delivering expert training, enhancing data literacy and analytics capabilities.

Dr Chatsiou said: “I am very excited to have joined the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, a world leading centre of expertise in data analytics at the University of Essex. I am especially looking forward to contributing my expertise in natural language processing and data science to help support local businesses and voluntary sector organisations and empowering them to improve their services and data capabilities.”

Having worked in partnership with the Centre for many years, we are thrilled Dr Chatsiou is now a formal member of the team, joining Dr Philip Broniecki, Dr Farhana Liza, Dr Luke Abbs and Husam Quteineh as Senior Research Officers.

Nigel Kirby, Project Manager said "I am delighted to welcome Kakia, who is an enthusiastic and dynamic colleague, and will add immediate and continuing impact, to the Centre and our stakeholders."

Look out for the series of webinars released in 2020 featuring Dr Chatsiou as she provides valuable insight for organisations into how they can maximise their use of their data, the power of effective impact assessment, evaluating services using data and many other topics.

Bounce back from COVID-19 flash funding round now open

The Business and Local Government Data Research Centre has launched a flash grant funding round enabling organisations across the UK to receive thousands of pounds worth of data analytics support.

From measuring impact to predicting future demand, businesses, charities and the public sector have a unique opportunity to engage with the Centre's senior research officers to bring a project to life. Now more than ever, organisations need to turn data into insight for informed decision making, predict future demand and make full use of the knowledge that data can bring.

As part of the launch of the flash funding round, the Centre is delivering a webinar on how to apply for a Data Analytics Innovation Voucher on Zoom on 10th June 2020.

This webinar is designed to give organisations the essential information required to apply for grant funded data analytics support.

Deadline for grant applications is 3rd July 2020. Please email BLGDataResearch@essex.ac.uk if you have any queries.

Local charities among those awarded innovation vouchers

Two regional charities were amongst the organisations awarded grant-funded data analytics support during the recent round of Data Analytics Innovation Vouchers (DAIVs).

Data Analytics Innovation Vouchers (DAIVs) enable organisations across the UK to benefit from thousands of pounds worth of cutting edge data analytics expertise. From predicting the deterioration of roads to in-depth impact assessment, DAIVs use the power of data to solve real-world challenges faced by businesses, charities and the public sector.

Those successfully awarded DAIVs have the opportunity to work with the Centre's international team of senior research officers to unlock the hidden potential held within data, with projects designed to improve practice and influence policy.

Laura Brookes, Outreach and Publicity Officer for the Centre, said, "The DAIV scheme has never been more popular and we are proud to create more opportunities for organisations to benefit from the support we provide."

Find out more about the DAIVs and how to apply or email BLGDataResearch@essex.ac.uk to book your consultation. 

Centre joins South East Digital Skills Partnership

The Business and Local Government Data Research Centre has joined the South East Digital Skills Partnership.

The Partnership has received government funding to help tackle digital skills challenges in the South East, which will help boost the local economy.

Read the story.

Blog

Helping ECDA shoot for the moon

Essex Centre for Data Analytics (ECDA) consists of Essex County Council, Essex Police and the University of Essex.  A partnership of data analysts ensures collaborative working across the county.

As ECDA celebrates its first year in operation, they have achieved many successes.

Thanks to training delivered the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre and our continued support, the ECDA analysts are now implementing innovative data analytics techniques for impact across Essex.

Read more at the Essex County Council blog.

Getting your data ready for a DAIV application

Every organisation comes to our Centre with different amounts and types of data.

The first step in applying to receive grant funded data analytics support through the DAIV scheme is to complete a simple expression of interest. This is the start of the planning process and will help you shape your project whilst helping us to ensure you receive the right support. 

Top tips from the research team

Have clear data objectives

  • What does the world look like when your organisation has fulfilled its mission?
  • How will your organisation achieve its mission? What are the core programmes you undertake?
  • What are some of the pain points or challenges your organisation faces?

Understand what data you hold

  • What data do you have?
  • What does the data represent (e.g. an individual, a state, a survey response)
  • What is the background (e.g. location, time, a paragraph on feedback)
  • What is the size of the data - for example, how many rows? how many months or years of data? how many countries?
  • What format is the data in (e.g. Excel, PDF, csv) and how is it organised?

Define your project

  • What data science project do you think would help you address these issues or objectives?
  • What data would you like to use for this project?

The privacy of your data is incredibly important to us. We take data privacy issues very seriously and we will work with you to ensure that we are all comfortable with the treatment of sensitive data.  It is therefore essential that you comply with our Data Sharing Agreements and GDPR. Please do not hesitate to email us at BLGdataresearch@essex.ac.uk with any questions.

Understand any privacy and information compliance issues

  • Who created the data (do you own the data)?
  • Will you be able to transfer the data if the project is approved so that your allocated researcher can complete the analytics?
  • Do you have the appropriate permission from your clients (if applicable)?
  • Are you committed to using data to make decisions, explore patterns, improve services and meet objectives?

The key to a successful data analytics project is to have a well-defined question in mind and a clear objective.

If you need help exploring what is possible with the data you hold or would like to discuss a project in more detail then please contact BLGdataresearch@essex.ac.uk to book your free virtual consultation with our expert team.

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