The Bartlett School of Architecture


Designing a National Data Facility for UK RDRF

6 December 2016


The project aims to specify a National Data Facility for urban and infrastructure planning, which will serve as a medium for both the research and user communities of a number of past, recent, and on-going research projects across UCL departments. To support top-class research, the academic community needs to have access to real world data from all available sources (public, government, commercial, non-profit, sensory data etc.). This access is also required if we are to tackle contemporary societal challenges in the urban and regional realm making use of research findings and analytics tools to deliver impact.

We plan to undertake a series of dialogue and engagement activities with various data stakeholders to identify:

  • Key policy questions defining the types of data facility support the user community require from the academic/research community
  • Relevant human expertise required to tackle challenges identified by both the research and user communities
  • Existing best data practices and their analysis to inform the research design processes
  • Data sources, types, and features; technical, licencing, and legal limitations with access and management; mapping the regional data assets
  • Computational infrastructure & expertise that us needed to address the challenges identified

This project leverages on the EPSRC investment in the UK Regions Digital Research Facility (UKRDRF) and its partnership with stakeholders, but makes a complementary and additional contribution to the definition of a novel data architecture.



Professor Alan Penn (PI)
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Dr Zeynep Engin (Co-I)
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Professor Philip Treleaven (Department of Computer Science)

Dr Roger Milichamp (Department of Computer Science)

Dr Michal Galas (Department of Computer Science)

Dr Ashley Dhanani (Space Syntax Lab, The Bartlett)


Projected outcomes are as follows:

1. Scoping workshops: We plan to run four scoping workshops to oversee the design process for a national data facility. The target participant group will be a mix of research and policy stakeholders to ensure that both perspectives are taken into account at all stages of the project.

2. Visits to user organisations:  We plan to conduct eight to twelve interviews and focus group meetings with external organisations to understand the current data practices and needs alongside with a larger user survey. These proactive engagement steps will also serve as the foundation towards creating an active expert network for future research co-design and knowledge transfer projects.

3. User survey: We will design a detailed user survey for all user groups of data for regional and urban planning including researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders. By analysing the responses of different user groups to the same set of questions, we aim to gain better understanding of different group dynamics and languages and their interactions with each other. This would then allow us to develop a common strategy for interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations around pressing social challenges.

4. Data facility specifications: Based on the background research, scoping workshops, user visits, and the user survey we aim to produce specification documents to report on

a. which new services could be offered or which existing services could be improved by employing more sophisticated data analytics methods and technologies

b. potential user profile of the new data technologies, their needs and shortcomings to identify areas with skills shortage

c. technical specifications regarding the infrastructure for data access, storage, processing, and communication.

These specifications would then be used as the basis for designing a new national data facility, providing a comprehensive review and description of the problem domain to develop further research projects.

5. Multimedia material: As the project aims to connect with a wide range of stakeholders as well as the general public, producing multimedia material for online dissemination would have a significant impact on its success. Where feasible and appropriate, we plan to record all workshops and meetings and produce summary video clips on key aspects of the project answering questions like

a. why a national data facility is needed and key steps for its design

b. how data and evidence can inform local/regional policy decisions

c. how interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations can be established and sustained around key policy challenges.

The multimedia material would also contribute to the culture of open research providing improved accessibility beyond a small technical/expert group in charge.  


The recent referendum result has highlighted a serious division in the UK. Industrial restructuring and social change have left the older working-class electorate behind. The depth of this divide suggests that government has failed systematically to recognise and address local concerns. There is therefore a need to give local politicians and policy makers much better access to information and analysis relevant to their local area.

A national data facility would address:

1. some of the main challenges that policymakers across local and central government face:

a. lack of integrated, well-managed, cohesive data within local authorities across departmental and sector silos [the data aggregarion challenge]

b. lack of integrated, well-managed data and its communication between local and global level (i.e. local and central government, particularly in areas such as health and schools data) [the data devolution challenge]

c. lack of capacity and expertise within the local authorities to manage data effectively [the data maturity challenge]

d. lack of comprehensive access to relevant sets of data, difficulty in obtaining these in better frequency, better granularity, to maximum effect [the data dynamics challenge]

2. In turn this would address one of the main challenges underpinning the analytics and modelling capacity, which the UK Regions Digital Research Facility (UKRDRF) seeks to employ in its open source platform. The data facility to be specified here forms a key addition to the UKRDRF whose significant investment will be leveraged to transform the way policymaking, investment decisions and communications between local authorities across city systems and between local and central government are made. This is especially pertinent in view of the focus on cities to sustain and foster their own growth following the devolution deals, as well as in the light of the EU Referendum, which would see cities relying strongly on their own trade and economic growth, through intra-national as well as international relationships.

3. This piece of work, in combination with and support of the wider work of the UKRDRF and Data for Policy teams and their existing work with partners, would address questions and problems that are regularly addressed in relation to data for local authorities and regions (see Bean Review, Chapter 2 / Regional statistics; City of London City Data Strategy; Core Cities: Delivering Place-based productivity). A data facility that is adaptable to the needs of different stakeholders is therefore key to the success of this project and other similar projects.