UK Government announces new funds to spark wave of innovation in tech for social good

31 January 2019

UK Government Industrial Strategy Digital

Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright will set out how new digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, could be used to tackle global challenges.

•    Digital revolution to use the power of data to combat illegal wildlife trade and reduce food waste
•    Wright will also announce the Government’s contribution to a new fund, which will be up to £30 million, to spark a wave of tech innovation
•    World-first ‘data trust’ could see conservationists sharing audio and image data to help tackle illegal wildlife trade
•    This is part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, intended to harness the power of technology to help make a real difference to people’s lives

Pioneering digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to crack down on global challenges as part of a world-first ‘data trust’ programme to be piloted in the UK.

More than £700,000 will be invested in the initiative to tackle issues such as illegal wildlife poaching and food waste mountains. The funding will help organisations such as WILDLABS, Tech Hub and WRAP design the frameworks required to exchange data between organisations in a safe, fair and ethical way.

The aim of the scheme, which will be run by the Open Data Institute and the Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence, is to exploit the power of data exchange between organisations with raw data and those with expertise to process it, to tackle major global issues.

Exploring the potential of data trusts was a key commitment of the AI Sector Deal, a joint policy by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Industrial Strategy sets out Grand Challenges to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity.

The news comes ahead of a speech in which Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright will announce a package of measures to spark a wave of innovation in tech for social good.

This includes the government’s partnership with the Social Tech Trust to establish a fund of up to £30 million, to provide access to finance and position the UK as a global leader in socially transformative tech. A further £1 million will be available to incentivise organisations to use tech to help tackle loneliness and bring communities together.

Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright, said: “Technology is already making our lives easier in many ways but there is still so much untapped potential that we can deliver for social good.

“As a world-leader in emerging technologies, the UK is best placed to foster these opportunities. The new policies announced today, backed by new funding, will encourage industry to deliver technological innovation to address issues as diverse as animal poaching, food waste and loneliness.”

Business Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “From cutting food waste to tackling illegal wildlife crime, our innovators are working to harness the huge potential of data and artificial intelligence to solve international challenges.

“Our modern Industrial Strategy identifies our unmatched heritage and strength in AI as a huge opportunity for the UK.  We are leading the world in its development and use, benefitting from the highly skilled jobs and economic growth this technology creates.”

The Open Data Institute defines data trusts as a legal structure which provides independent, third-party stewardship of data for the benefit of a group of organisations or people.

The new plans include:
•    A partnership between leading conservation charities, WILDLABS Tech Hub and technology experts to reduce the level of illegal trade of wildlife, by sharing image data to assist border control officers around the world in identify illegal animal products from their smartphones.
•    Audio data could be used to train algorithms to detect gunshots or the underwater sound of illegal fishing vessels coming into protected areas, then real-time alerts will be pinged to rangers.
•    WRAP will be working with food and drink businesses to track and measure food waste, to develop solutions which could see savings passed on to consumers, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.
•    Royal Borough of Greenwich and Greater London Authority will be looking at how data collected through their Sharing Cities Programme, could help make certain data available in a data trust, including energy consumption data collected by sensors and devices in buildings; data about parking space occupancy and the availability of charging bays for electric vehicles. This third pilot is funded by Innovate UK through the ODI’s R&D programme.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute said: “Increasing access to data can help people, communities and organisations make better and more timely decisions – such as which energy supplier to use, the route a bus should take, or whether to invest in creating a new product. But the people and organisations that have data, use it and are affected by its use need to trust that it is stewarded well, and shared equitably and for agreed purposes.

“Data trusts are one potential way to increase sharing of data and unlock more social and economic benefits from data, while protecting other interests, such as people's privacy, corporate confidentiality or, as in the pilot we're doing on data about endangered animals, our environment. The ODI is also looking at other approaches to increased access to data, including data sharing models, such as those adopted by the European innovation programme Data Pitch, where large organisations share data with startups in order to fuel innovation and answer specific challenges.”

The Digital Secretary will also announce new measures to boost tech driven by social purpose during his speech at Doteveryone in London this morning.

This is part of his vision for ‘tech for good’ which will champion technology as a force to change lives for the better, increase engagement between the social and tech sectors and ensure charities understand how they can use technology to achieve their mission.

These include:
•    A Social Tech Venture Fund, administered by the Social Tech Trust, which will see government and industry invest up to £30 million to support innovative solutions to encourage people to be healthier and help them to build connected communities. The Social Tech Venture Fund will increase access to finance and position the UK as a global leader in socially transformative tech;
•    £1 million to incentivise organisations to develop solutions to tackle loneliness and bring communities together;
•    Government backing for a new Digital Agenda Impact Awards to showcase and celebrate tech for good innovations from across business, government and charity organisations;
•    A collaboration with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) and its network of social sector partners to explore how best to support charities to embed digital in their strategy, services and culture;
•    Naming the organisations to benefit from a share of Government’s £1 million Digital Leadership Fund, which aims to boost charity leaders’ digital know-how, and how they can use technology to benefit their respective causes. Winners will include Age UK, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Cornwall Museums Partnership.

Charities are already using digital technologies to support their work. Breast Cancer Care developed the BECCA app, which gives patients information and emotional support after their treatment has completed. More than 15,000 women have used the app in the first year and the creators hope to reach 20,000 more by 2020.

Today’s announcement builds on work the Government has already done in supporting the use of tech for social good. This includes helping to bring together the private, charity and public sectors to embrace technological advances to improve people’s lives and the country’s productivity.


Quotes from organisations involved in data trust pilots

Sophie Maxwell, from WILDLABS Tech Hub said: “AI has the potential to revolutionise wildlife conservation and strengthen the technological tools needed to end wildlife crime. In order to harness this opportunity, however, we need to be able to distribute large-scale, well-curated data sets to machine learning experts. WILDLABS partners are very excited about collaborating with the ODI and Office for AI to deliver simple mechanisms that make it easy and safe for the conservation community to share data. It’s collaborative efforts like this that will help us save threatened species around the world.”

Mike Falconer Hall, New Product Development Manager at WRAP said: “WRAP’s work focuses on forging powerful partnerships and delivering ground-breaking initiatives to support more sustainable economies and society. Carefully building and understanding the evidence which galvanises action is at the heart of everything we do. These pilots will give us the opportunity to build on our experience and explore different ways to create an environment where organisations can confidently share their data.”


The Open Data Institute (ODI) is using funding from the Office for Artificial Intelligence and InnovateUK to support its work on the data trust pilots. This is part of Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, putting pioneering technologies at the heart of plans to build a Britain which is fit for the future.

Data trusts operate by allowing multiple individuals or organisations – such as supermarkets, conservation charities or local authorities – to give some control over data to a new institution – the trust – so that it can be used to create benefits, either for themselves, or other people, or both. That benefit might be to create new businesses, help research a medical disease, or empower a community of workers, consumers or citizens.

The Office for Artificial Intelligence is based in central government and responsible for overseeing implementation of the UK’s AI strategy, policy.


About the Open Data Institute
The ODI was co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and artificial intelligence expert, Sir Nigel Shadbolt to show the value of data, and to advocate for the innovative use of data to affect positive change across the globe.

It is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan company headquartered in London, with an international reach. We work with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, where people can make better decisions using data and manage any harmful impacts.


The AI and Data Grand Challenge
The Industrial Strategy sets out Grand Challenges to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity. Artificial intelligence and data is one of the four Grand Challenges, which will see AI used across a variety of industries and put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.


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