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Recover, together, stronger: How a data alliance can aid our economic recovery

Colourful cityscape of buildings with location icons
Credit: Who is Danny, Shutterstock

We’ve all witnessed the critical role location data has played over the last months in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, but what comes next? I believe that geospatial data is just as important as we begin to restart our economy. 

I have been leading the work in the Geospatial Commission to engage with both the public and private sector to identify how location data (particularly data used in innovative ways) can support the recovery from coronavirus. This is in the context of the UK Geospatial Strategy mission to “promote and safeguard the use of location data”, which includes identifying opportunities to enable private-sector data to be shared to drive economic growth. 

One example of developing the role of data in economic recovery following coronavirus is the Emergent Alliance. Their work is particularly interesting in bringing together a range of data, including location data, from across the private and public sector to focus beyond the initial response. The alliance is a not-for-profit collaboration with a vision to create a safe environment in which we share data, expertise and resources to work together to aid economic recovery in 2020 and beyond. The members include Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, IBM, Google Cloud, The Data City, Truata, Rolls-Royce, Microsoft, ODI Leeds, SATAVIA and Fieldfisher, and is facilitated by Whitespace, the innovation builder.

Dr Rachel Gawley, Programme Director, shares more on their work, as an example of the collaborative and innovative approaches using location data, that we have seen over recent months. 

What we are looking to achieve

Emergent Alliance produces models to identify lead indicators, signalling economic recovery, that global businesses and government can use to build operating confidence in investment and activities with the aim to shorten or limit recessionary impacts.

Researchers and data scientists within the Alliance, are working in cross-industry teams, using location data as a thread to analyse both traditional economic, business, travel and retail data sets and behavioural and sentiment data. This will provide insight into the changes we are seeing in human activity,  how these are evolving for different geographies and over time how they are impacting businesses and society. 

The different areas that the Alliance are focusing on are broken down into challenges. In one of our challenges, partners in the rail industry want to know how the restoration of rail use will contribute to UK economic activity?  

Central to this is understanding; 

  • analysing and predicting passenger flow under various scenarios;
  • including which businesses and other services like theatres and restaurants are open; 
  • who is using them; and
  • whether many are now working from home, or perhaps renting entertainment at home as an alternative to visiting theatres and cinemas. 

Our models will use anonymised location data such as the number of trips between origins and destinations, journey times, and the configurations of outlets (i.e. offices, shops etc.), combined with other information such as time of day and demographics of the population to address many of these questions.

In another case, an Emergent team with partners from many countries and industry sectors wants to provide local indicators of risk and recovery. Through our knowledge of population patterns, we can analyse job opportunities and business risks at a neighbourhood scale, including the potential to re-skill the workforce, for example, using AI, data science or video technology. The models provide the analytics to create the indicators and to suggest and evaluate the policy response, which might power the recovery.

Collaborating seamlessly but securely

Historically,  private sector organisations have often been reluctant to share their data due to commercial and confidentiality concerns.

To aid recovery from COVID-19, the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) has addressed this difficulty by the creation of ISO-accredited data infrastructure with associated research management protocols. This means that business organisations can share data with the assurance that all the analytics are in the public interest and free of commercial sensitivity or conflict.

In addition to this, LIDA will facilitate the re-use of sensitive data sets within a secure environment so that the outputs, methodology and meta-data can be shared openly while retaining the integrity of the constituent data sets.

Whilst commercial concerns are extremely important when considering sharing sensitive data, ethical issues around consent, data linkage and conflicts of interest must also be addressed., as outlined in the UK Geospatial Strategy. The Alliance benefits from the expertise of founding member Truata, which contributes its widespread prior experience in data anonymization and privacy-enhanced analytics.

Facilitating and seamlessly running such a wide-reaching and collaborative Alliance as this requires a certain amount of expertise. Whitespace’s experience in running communities such as this and facilitating innovation means that the Alliance is off to a strong start already. As more data and skills are added from all areas, this will further strengthen the results and insights that the Alliance can draw.

A step-change in the use of data

Whilst the Emergent Alliance focuses on recovery from COVID-19, its cross-industry collaboration model and practices for data sharing could be applied to any number of societal challenges.

Governments, businesses and individuals around the world have been challenged by COVID-19 to act quickly, decisively and effectively using the best available scientific evidence and insight.  

By mobilising skills, data and analytics from a wide range of organisations and institutions at a global scale, the Emergent Alliance can help to contribute to a step-change in the use of location data to address the economic and social challenges which come in its wake.


The Geospatial Commission is keen to reflect and make available a wide range of views and approaches, including those that may stimulate debate. The Geospatial Commission does not necessarily endorse the content provided by guest contributors.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Terry Jackson posted on

    Both the future and past lie in the development and application of linked, open geotemporal data... everything happens somewhere sometime.

    From a tiny Wales outpost in the silicon fen-edge village of Cottenham, Cambridge, the Cambridgeshire Covid-19 Info dashboard is in permanent beta development with the Coronovirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

    Its daily Data in Motion video at is an early example of geotemporal data in action and the UK journey at has only just begun.