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At the Urban Big Data Centre

The Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC) collects data from Glasgow about citizen behaviour. In this video, Jeremy Singer interviews Catherine Lido from UBDC.
JEREMY: Hello, Catherine. Thank you for inviting me into your office with your exciting decor. Interesting posters on the wall. I’d like you to tell me a little bit about the Urban Big Data Centre at Glasgow and your involvement with it, please.
CATHERINE: So the Urban Big Data Centre is an investment in trying to get people to use data. It was a £10 million pound initial investment from the Economic and Social Research Council. And it’s one of five centres. And the idea behind it is to try and get people not just academics, but educators, community groups to use data to answer social issues, things that will make the world a better place.
JEREMY: At the Urban Big Data Centre, you’ve been collecting lots of interesting data sets. And one of them in particular that you told me about is the IMCD, which I forgot what it stands for. But perhaps, you can remind me and tell me about why it’s really interesting for Glasgow and the local area.
CATHERINE: Yeah, it’s called the Integrated Multi-media City Data Project, which is quite a mouthful. City Data Project.
JEREMY: Good. Yes.
CATHERINE: Yeah. IMCD, or IMCD for short. So it’s a really interesting piece of open data that was the first data product that we created at UBDC for use by anybody. So anyone can apply to use this data. There’s four strands to it. And the first strand is a 2000 household survey of adults in the greater Glasgow area. So we cover things like education, transportation, sustainability, ICT and computer use. It’s quite rich data in and of itself. But then we followed it up with about 600 people wearing GPS trackers around the city.
JEREMY: Oh right. OK. So you followed people around virtually?
CATHERINE: We did virtually, yes, for one week. So they wore the GPS trackers and it tracked their movements. It can tell us whether they were walking, cycling, driving, spending time chatting in their communities.
JEREMY: Oh, or shopping or going to school.
CATHERINE: Or shopping or going to school. And of those, about half of them also wore life logger cameras around their necks, which took pictures about every three seconds of what they were seeing in the city. Yeah. So I can talk to you about the ethics maybe another time because that was quite a long ethical process.
JEREMY: Yes, yes in terms of kind of insuring privacy and so on.
CATHERINE: So we have a completely open version of the survey data, which anybody could have straightaway. But obviously with the GPS being linked to the survey, we have to make sure that you can’t identify houses and things like that. But all of these are linked together. And they also have in the background one year’s worth of social media data capture. Yeah, so it started with the Commonwealth Games up to the referendum. We’ve basically got just over a year in the life of Glasgow.
JEREMY: 2014?
CATHERINE: Yeah, about 2014, mainly 2015. 2014 into 2015, the data capture.
JEREMY: Along with people’s tweets and Facebook posts?
CATHERINE: Yes. And we’ve got harvested certain hashtags, for instance, related to education. So you can see the educational landscape of that time.
JEREMY: That’s really interesting. And tell me about what you’ve been doing, what other people are doing to analyse this data and extract higher level insight.
CATHERINE: Sure. So the really strange thing about this data is that we collected it not for research purposes, not with research questions. So we just thought what would people be interested in. So once we had it collected, our team kind of thought, well, we’re interested in educational inclusion. So the first piece of work we did was about older adult learners in the city. And we saw that they were less engaged in all forms of learning. But those who were engaged were actually more likely to be volunteering, boycotting something online, but they were also more physically mobile around the city, and even across Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
JEREMY: Data is not just for acquiring information, but changing things. Can you tell me how the IMCD data has, perhaps, influenced people or changed outcomes for people in interesting ways?
CATHERINE: Sure. There’s been lots of work with the transportation data. So that’s quite interesting. Lots of things looking at where people are having issues with traffic and with trains. And there’s an interesting piece of work my colleague Jim did about home school travel and how people are active travel to school and how that’s related to the household. But a particular piece of work that I’ve done that I’m really proud of is some work that I did with my colleague Kate Reed in terms of lifewide literacies. And we took the data from the equal literacy, health literacy, financial literacy, and digital literacy. And we tried to visualise the inequalities across Glasgow using a great big touchable moving map.
Yeah, so we created a couple of objects related to this as well that we took out to festivals across Glasgow. One was at IKEA. Yeah.
JEREMY: A flatpack festival. Fantastic.
CATHERINE: A flatpack festival. It was all laser cut wood too, so it was very IKEA-esque.
JEREMY: Very appropriate.
CATHERINE: But we also had a quiz. So we had a digital quiz, and you had to stop the right answer. So for instance, where’s the safest place to keep your money was one of the questions for financial.
JEREMY: Under your bed.
CATHERINE: Yeah, under your bed. That’s a controversial question now, I guess. Is it in a bank? Is it not in a bank? And we also had eco literacy, what’s the biggest risk to animals’ habitats, which was, obviously, humans building on them. And so, what we did was if you got the question right– let’s say for financial you got a little financial token here. And if you got the health literacy right, you could read the prescription bottle for some aspirin, you got this little health literacy badge. And for instance, if you were good at science, and then what you did is you get to decide whether you’re more of a robot or alien or monkey.
And how are you feeling today, Jeremy?
JEREMY: I think I’m probably more robot than alien.
CATHERINE: I think you probably are. So there’s your robot. And then which literacies would you like? Would you like a little eco literacy? Science?
JEREMY: Oh, I’d like science please.
CATHERINE: A little science. There you go. You get your little test tube. And then while the kids are making these and colouring these, we’re having a conversation with their parent about this data set, about Urban Big Data Centre, about these skills that make you a successful citizen. So it’s really a way of connecting back with the communities that we– it’s researching with, not researching on. So yeah. It’s been really good and we’d love to do more work in schools, really relating it to the curriculum for excellence and this whole agenda of citizenship.
And it links very much into digital and data literacy, making it real and making it touchable, and to say we started with data, but now we have these touchable objects that show why these things matter.

The Urban Big Data Centre is a government-funded initiative, hosted at the University of Glasgow, to collect data about citizens and their behaviour. Dr Catherine Lido is a researcher at the Centre, and she explains to Jeremy about how the data is collected and analysed. She also discusses community data outreach activities, and tells Jeremy he is “more of a robot than an alien”.

This video might be light relief while you work on your data project. However it might be very helpful in giving you inspiration about research questions and how to address them. Can you take any of Catherine’s ideas and apply them in your learning scenarios? Let us know in the discussion forum below.

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