On the 18th of October (2018), a GovTechLab Knowledge Transfer Consortium event was held at UCL, which focused on the theme of ‘Policy and Operations from Online Data’. The event was chaired by Prof. Philip Treleaven (UCL), who started proceedings with an introduction to the event’s subject matter. The central theme pivoted upon how online data, open sources that are available on the internet, can be harnessed to provide policy insight and efficiency in data analysis. 

Prof. Suzy Moat and Dr. Tobias Presis (both from University of Warwick), began the consortium with a presentation concerning how online data can be used in predictive analytics. Case studies explored included prediction of flu epidemics and crowd size estimates. Suzy followed this by a ‘tech-talk’, detailing the technological methods behind such data analysis.

Policy, Research, and, Industry sessions followed respectively.

Dr. Cathy Mulligan chaired the policy session, which saw Alistair Edwardes (ONS Data Science Campus) and Charlie Smoothy (Office for AI) talk on the current strategic thinking and use of new digital technologies in the civil service. Alistair discussed the work of the ‘Data Science Campus’ (under the umbrella of the ONS) in using data to seek early indicators for changes in GDP and efficiency saving with respect to the use of new digital technologies in data collection for the census. Among many announcements, Charlie discussed the large funding injection that is being put in to AI research. For example, she noted that 1000 PhD studentships are to be funded.

The research session was chaired by Giles Pavey and consisted of talks by Dr. Rosa Lavelle-Hill (University of Nottingham), concerning how psychology can be used to derive understanding (not just prediction) from big data analysis, and, Dr. Zeynep Engin (UCL), who introduced and surveyed the emergent filed of digital ethics. Zeynep reported on ethical concerns that have already been observed (ex. Cambridge Analytica, Microsoft’s Tay, etc.), and raised concerns that will become more acute as the use of the technology advances. 

The final session was on industry and was chaired by Nick Davies. Here, two quite different projects, which utilise big data, were showcased. Sergi Martorell introduced Glass AI, a new search engine that is used specifically for research and government. This was followed by Alan Brown’s presentation concerning a program of prisoner monitoring and reform offered by MegaNexus.

The consortium then concluded with an open discussion of the presentations and topics that may form the subject of future GovTechLab Knowledge Transfer Consortium events. In this light, events focused on AI, on accessing funding, and, fleshing out of potential research projects were all raised. 

Crucially, the event balanced the need to provide technical explanations of how analysis takes places, with the wider picture of concerns such as the potential uses of these technologies and effectitive communication with the public. In particular, Philip stressed the need to focus on innovation, opening spaces for exploration and encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to this new emerging technology.