Start-up Meeting


This start‐up meeting (held in London on 30 April 2014) was for the UK projects funded under Phase 3 of the Digging into Data programme ( and was open to PIs and Project Managers (or their representatives) of these 9 projects.

Welcome and Introduction – Christopher Brown (Jisc)

There was a brief introduction to the workshop, a run through of the agenda and the meeting’s aims:

  • A chance for projects to meet the programme manager, director, funders and each other, and to exchange information about their projects;
  • Convey the programme requirements as to documentation, reporting, communication and evaluation to the projects;
  • Give projects an overview of the programme support and related information;
  • Hear some of the lessons learned from project managers of Phase 2;
  • An opportunity for projects to discuss any issues of concern and ask questions of the programme manager and director.

Digging into Data Phases 1+2 – Catherine Grout (Jisc)

Catherine is the Programme Director for the projects, although her official job title is Head of Change, Implementation and Support – Research. The presentation gave an overview of the first two phases of Digging into Data.

Jisc has been involved in this work for some time and this programme has built on previous work. The idea is that if you can connect data you can learn new things. In phase 1 there were nine projects and the findings are in the CLIR report. Phase 2 expanded to include 14 projects. There was a large conference in Montreal for phase 2 that highlighted the outcomes. There was a need to do more work on tools produced in phase 2 that could be useful elsewhere and challenge boundaries. Since phase 1 there has been an increase in the availability of data and there are far more resources available now than ever before.

For phase 3 two new funders have joined – CFI and NSERC, bringing it to 10. Each project must have 2 countries working together so there is a strong focus on international collaboration.

There have been many Digging into Data achievements so far and for humanities it’s been really important. It’s not just for STEM studies. There has been interesting feedback on collaboration between domains and new approaches. It’s been far more successful than expected on international collaboration and has created more research opportunities and efficiencies using big data. There has also been a lot of press interest. What is important is that projects tell stories about their work and show how different audiences might relate to the work. Narrative stories make sense.

Research Council Expectations – Samantha McGregor (ESRC) and Laura Bones & Wendy Matcham (AHRC)

There were three elements to this session:

  • Research Councils (RC) involvement with Digging and how it fits with broader activities/priorities
  • RCs expectations of projects
  • Forward look

Samantha described how AHRC and ESRC came on board in the second round and have found it to be a valuable experience to be involved in Digging into Data. There has been a small investment for a massive win and have learnt a lot from one another. Also, transatlantic digging partners – looking at ways to explore methods of working across the Atlantic divide.

AHRC has broader priorities with a £64M investment in Big Data projects across various sectors. They have provided AHRC hubs with uplift funding and support the UK Data Service.

Laura talked about Digital Transformation and how the international aspect was key for them as well as Big Data. Working with academics so they can answer bigger questions.

RC expectations – Jisc is managing phase 3. Only AHRC and ESRC have put money in to the projects.

Impact was highlighted as important for projects – the pathway to impact and demonstrating impact. This can be in two ways – academic and economic/societal. The latter is very broad and often trips people up. Looking for added value from the research funded.

Public engagement – there was more press interest than expected for phase 2. Projects can contact the AHRC press team and hoping to do some media training at some point. Jisc should be the central initial point of contact for projects.

There are ongoing discussions for future funding, i.e. phase 4. The landscape for data and big data projects has changed enormously. There are lots of prospects in commercial and academic sectors. Need to take a step back and look at what we have before further discussions. Currently looking at evaluation of phase 2 and discussions with other funders about doing a bigger evaluation or not.  Expanded horizons –there are lots more mechanisms available than earlier.

Phase 2 Lessons Learned

Some of the people representing phase 3 projects had also been involved in phase 2 projects. Three of these delegates were asked to provide lessons learned from the previous phase, in particular issues around international collaboration and advice for phase 3 projects.

ChartEX Project – Christopher Power

The project focused on getting information out of documents for historians to use. Collaborating with historians from York and Washington there were two categories of issues, management and interdisciplinary. With management, it was difficult getting detailed project plans from North American partners as they are given the money and allowed to get on with the work. It’s a different culture, so hard to get international partners to do this. When things go wrong what are the carry-on effects? There is not enough buy-in to project plan.

There can be a tendency to become isolated when working disparately. Have learned to have more updates and contact with the project members.

Need to value processes from science and tech for humanities. It’s often difficult to get stuff into systems. Everyone has research goals and these should be established up front.

Visualisations – Min Chen

This project involved collaboration between Utah and Oxford. Lessons learned include, keep any local collaboration going and there can be long delays when dealing with international colleagues.  The project schedule was very tight and packs in quite a lot of activities. Not all software development, but requires communication to keep both sides aware of what is going on.

The gap between poets and computer scientists is probably the biggest gap you have between domains. There are lots of humanity scholars coming to Oxford and they have had poetry readings to educate computer scientists.

The project is still going despite having no resources and work with Utah has continued. They have just submitted a joint proposal for funding.

Cross-disciplinary analysis requires an iterative (Agile) approach. Quite often the main problems with a one year project are the dependencies. People start waiting and play a blame game. You need to minimise dependency but still enable collaboration. There has been success in getting the software online in the public domain (Poem Viewer – They have had Skype conferences to tell other humanity colleagues how to use the system.

Jisc is very good at managing the publicity side. They sent a journalist to attend their meeting and undertook video interviews.

ISHER – Sophia Ananiadou

ISHER stands for Integrating Social History Environment. There were three partners (US, NL and Manchester), who are experts in text mining, and a number of social scientists. The project involved mining the NY Times, which includes 1.8M articles. This is a large archive with established users. They developed a text analytics system that extracted discourse information.

The important part was to look at producing an interoperable infrastructure environment. This was used for annotation and creating text mining workflows. They integrated tools from the partners, developed the system and put it online.

Lessons learned – US partners had different frame of mind about working. It was difficult to get them to work to a plan. They still developed solutions but luckily built on existing, proven solutions. You should engage with your users and make sure the data is available before you start. The project had to deal with copyright issues and the availability of the data. They weren’t allowed to show the data to the rest of the world so the system has to be password protected. The partners from the Netherlands complained that they had to pay to get access to the data. They can only demonstrate the system and are extremely frustrated about this. Manchester paid for the data and built the system. The BBC was impressed but it cannot be shared.

You need to create a usable system which can be updated and harmonise the length of the project between all the partners.

Meet the Phase 3 Projects

Presentations from the projects were limited to 15 minutes including questions and presenters were asked to include the following:

  • Project overview, objectives and deliverables;
  • Institutional context and objectives;
  • How the project builds on any previous work;
  • The methods you will use to communicate progress with the community;
  • How will you measure success and where do you want to be at the end of the project?

Details of the projects can be found at

The following presentations from each project were made (select each link to view the presentation):

Project Guidelines and Communication – Christopher Brown

This Project Guidelines and Comms presentation gave an overview of Jisc’s programme management requirements and expectations. Also, the support the projects can expect to receive from Jisc.

Part of the presentation looked at how best to communicate the progress and outputs of the projects. There was very little interest from the projects in having a media training day. There was some discussion about the need for more training around impact. Most projects felt they knew how to write these statements already. It was decided that Jisc and the Research Councils will look at the detail of what could be provided and circulate this to projects to gauge interest.

Summary – Christopher Brown

In this section the delegates were asked if there were any issues they would like to raise or questions they had for Jisc and the Research Councils.

There were questions about whether projects had to provide a UK plan or a project plan. The plan is for the project, but is focused on the UK work. It should always include any dependencies on partner projects.

Although there was a lack of interest in a media training day the Data Transformation event was mentioned. This is being held in September and organised by ESRC. When details are available they will be circulated to projects.

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