Professor receives OBE for services to data science

  • Date

    Sat 15 Jun 24

Matthew Woollard OBE

Professor Matthew Woollard has been awarded an OBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List for services to data science and higher education.

As Director of the UK Data Archive and UK Data Service from 2010 to 2023, Professor Woollard led pioneering developments in data curation and active preservation across social sciences. As a leading expert in the field, he also helped policymakers develop key legislation including the Digital Economy Act.

The UK Data Archive at the University of Essex is the largest trusted digital archive of its kind, with sustained investment by the Economic and Social Research Council to facilitate innovative research and is lead partner of the UK Data Service. As the principal repository for economic, population and social research data in the UK, Professor Woollard ensured the UKDS fulfilled its mission of contributing to the creation of knowledge and the pursuit of a more equitable world.

He has devoted his career to advancing data accessibility and data innovation in the UK and beyond. His visionary approach to data management has revolutionised the way information is shared, accessed and used, making significant contributions to scientific advancements, evidence-based decision-making and societal progress.

He said: “It is wonderful to receive this recognition for the contribution of the UK Data Archive and UK Data Service to research, policy-making and education. I am proud of what our team and partners have achieved over the past decade and our national and international impact. The appropriate management and curation of data is becoming increasingly important and we have laid strong foundations for the future.”

Professor Woollard is a champion of data literacy, promoting open access to data, advocating for research transparency and nurturing the next generation of data scientists. Professor Woollard's leadership has shaped responsible data practices. He established an Ethics Advisory Committee within the UKDA, ensuring sensitive data handling, informed consent, and privacy protection. By prioritising data ethics, he has set a high standard for the responsible use of data.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, Professor Anthony Forster, said: “We are extremely proud Professor Woollard has received this recognition for his outstandijng leadership of the UK Data Archive and the UK Data Service. His leadership of a world-leading team has ensured the UK Data Archive remains one of the jewels in the crown of the University and at the heart of the UK’s data infrastructure, while also building on its international reputation for setting the highest benchmark for data curation and management.”

More about Professor Woollard's work

Professor Woollard’s vision led to the launch of the Data Discovery Tool, enabling efficient exploration and discovery of datasets, streamlining the data acquisition process. Because of Professor Woollard's UKDS leadership, important and incisive data-informed research has been undertaken, in addressing income and housing inequalities, health impacts of home working and the impact of school closures on children during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other key evidence-led research insights across societal challenges.

His expertise helped develop the Digital Economy Act (2018) and he has driven initiatives that ensure data security, privacy, and ethical considerations are at the forefront of research practices and played a pivotal role in establishing UKDS SecureLab. This trusted research environment allows approved researchers to access sensitive data while ensuring compliance with data protection. The Service has facilitated ground-breaking research in healthcare, social sciences, and economics, enabling researchers to tackle complex challenges.

His key role in establishing partnerships with leading academic institutions, government agencies and international organisations has strengthened the UK's position as a global leader in data-driven research. Through partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), ONS datasets were integrated into the UKDS, enhancing the scope and reliability of available data and providing researchers and policymakers with high¬ quality data, for robust evidence-based decision-making. Professor Woollard has also been a driving force in taking the influential European collaboration, CESSDA, from a plan to reality.

Professor Woollard is a leader in the field of data services and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He has received prestigious awards, including the Data Champions Award, for his outstanding efforts in advancing data, accessibility and promoting responsible data practices.

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