Economic and Social Research Council
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ESRC/Turing Fellowships awarded to improve understanding of 'Smart' and 'Happy' cities

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Alan Turing Institute have awarded two joint fellowships which aim to build collaboration between the social sciences and data science.  

Professor Alison Heppenstall and Professor Ganna Pogrebna have each been granted fellowships to drive the development and application of data science in the study of two major social challenges for our time: 'smart cities' and urban happiness.

Professor Heppenstall, of the University of Leeds, will lead a project exploring the underlying social processes in smart city data. The aim is to analyse and find patterns in this data, which could tell us how to solve real problems that plague cities today, such as congestion and air pollution.

Technological developments, such as the rise in GPS-enabled devices and Web 2.0 technologies have transformed how we connect and share information using smart phones and social media platforms. These include data on individual movement, preferences and opinions. Understanding these behaviours is crucial if we are to understand how cities work and how we work in cities.

The University of Birmingham’s Professor Pogrebna will lead a project to explore how behavioural science can improve machine learning algorithms to make better predictions about urban wellbeing.

Much is being said and speculated about smart cities at the moment. Smart cities put data-driven technologies and the ‘internet of things’ to use in architectural planning and design, the creative and cultural industries and social and environmental sustainability. These technologies can help address economic, spatial, social and ecological problems facing cities today to increase urban wellbeing. Data about citizens’ interactions with urban environments can now be analysed to design products and services to create happier urban environments. This data can also influence new policies that would ‘nudge’ citizens to adjust their behaviour in order to lead happier lives.

The fellowships are also designed to support new studentships to bring on the next generation of researchers in this area. The fellows will act as the primary supervisor for two studentships each.

Professor Tony McEnery, Interim Chief Executive of ESRC, said: "It’s a pleasure for ESRC and The Alan Turing Institute to award these fellowships to Professor Heppenstall and Professor Pogrebna. Both pieces of research are ambitious, exciting and will help us to bridge the gap between big data and social science.

"The advent of big data and the need to analyse such data means we need to build new research capacity in this area. Our partnership with Turing is an important addition to our portfolio of activities in this area and represents an important step forward."

Sir Alan Wilson, Chief Executive of The Alan Turing Institute, said: "Data science and artificial intelligence are set to transform the economy, science and the world we live in. The social sciences have a critical role in this research space, both drawing on the explosion of raw data to derive new knowledge and ensuring we build the next generation of algorithms and data-driven services to meet societal needs.

"We have a growing cohort of researchers in social data science at the Turing, and we look forward to welcoming Professor Heppenstall and Professor Pogrebna to undertake their exciting projects at the Institute."

Further information

  • Beth Wood, The Alan Turing Institute Press and Communications Manager
    Telephone: 0203 862 3390

Notes for editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  2. The Alan Turing Institute is the national institute for data science, headquartered at the British Library. Five founding universities - Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL and Warwick - and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
  3. The main purpose of the Joint Fellowship is to:
    • develop a research programme and conduct outstanding, creative and innovative research in data science, to develop internationally-significant outcomes through high-impact publications.
    • collaborate with others across Turing and the broader data science community, towards outputs and outcomes that yield significant academic, societal or economic impact.
    • play a role in advancing the strategic objectives of Turing and ESRC.
    • achieve research excellence as appropriate to the applicant’s discipline.
    • help build new research capacity in data science through training of the proposed associated PhD students.
    • help broaden and deepen the interdisciplinary research base of Turing through building a critical mass of social scientists at Turing.


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