The University of Southampton

Open data innovation

Research at Southampton has helped to unlock the potential of big data to solve real-world problems and contribute to the economy. By developing frameworks in which large datasets can be accessed and shared, and supporting companies to extract insights from data to design new products and services, our researchers have contributed to the creation of transnational ecosystems in which data-driven innovation can thrive.

Research challenge and context

In our digital world, the vast datasets that are generated by governments, business and individuals are a rich resource for data-driven innovation – the design of new applications or platforms that use data.

Southampton was an early pioneer of the open data movement, showing how transparency of data can revolutionise the way business is conducted, how communities work together and how public services are delivered. Its researchers developed new ways of standardising the presentation of data online so that it can be shared and analysed. These methods underpinned the publishing of datasets through several flagship government projects, including the UK government’s open data portal and the European Data Portal.

The next step was to foster data-driven innovation by transforming access to and use of data across all sectors of the UK economy and beyond. 

Our solution

Multidisciplinary research undertaken by the Web and Internet Science research group identified societal and technical barriers to data-driven innovation, and ways to overcome them.

The researchers learned that diverse frameworks and techniques, including big data, sensors and non-public data, were required to solve real-world problems, and that data users needed support to identify and extract value from their datasets. Trust was needed that data processing would be ethical and privacy-preserving. Research into Web Observatories – global resources for holding and sharing datasets and the tools used to visualise and interrogate them – resulted in frameworks to manage the risks related to data sharing.

Analysis of the use of data across 78 portals (the interfaces through which users access datasets) in 35 countries led to the production of guidelines to help designers make portals more user-friendly. Researchers also proposed new frameworks to enable people with non-technical backgrounds in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to exploit this rich resource.

What was the impact?

Informed by this body of research, Southampton has led the design and delivery of pioneering data incubators, including Open Data Incubator for Europe (ODINE) and Data Pitch. These have contributed to the creation of a European ecosystem for data-driven innovation, supporting digital businesses to fast-track the development of data-driven products through funding, mentoring and access to data.

Since 2006 this has unlocked €38m in funding and created 390 jobs to date across the UK and Europe; this is projected to exceed €115m and 900 jobs. The data incubators have facilitated innovation with data in over 120 organisations, from start-ups and SMEs to public authorities and multinationals – the Met Office and Konica are just some examples.

By stimulating innovation to tackle a range of real-world challenges, these initiatives have resulted in societal as well as economic benefits. For example, they have led to data insights being used to monitor the air quality in cities and develop products to improve it, to help government agencies tackle illegal waste dumping, and to inform winter road de-icing strategies.

Recognised as a global leader in the open data field, Southampton been invited to contribute to policy and help governments design frameworks, codes of practice and standards in areas such as data privacy and anonymisation. For example, its data anonymisation guidance was adapted for Australian legislation in 2017 and the European General Data Protection Regulation in 2020.

Find out more

Talk to our research team and find out more about this work. Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Dr Kieron O’Hara and Dr Thanassis Tiropanis led the research on this project.