Building capacity for big data management for Ghana’s developing economy

A Science and Technology Facilities Impact Award (STFC IAA) won by a team from the Physics department in collaboration with the start-up iDAM and facilitated by the JGI will provide hardware and software facilities for high volume data storage and archiving, processing, visualisation, algorithm development and testing for research in academia and industry in Ghana, contributing to the development of data science and digital innovation capability in the country.

Emmanuel Bempong-Manful, Henning Flaecher, Johannes Allotey, Kate Robson Brown

The team (Dr Henning Flaecher, Prof Kate Robson Brown and Prof Mark Birkinshaw) will develop a collaboration with local partners, the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory (GRAO), the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) project, and iDAM, a local start-up founded by two Bristol PhD students, Johannes Allotey and Emmanuel Bempong-Manful.

The Government of Ghana is embarking on the digitisation of several areas of the economy, including the passport office, ports and harbours and the energy sector, with the aim to improve services and revenue collection. These developing digital services together with those still to be implemented (e.g., in the digitisation of national IDs, health records, birth and death registry) will produce an enormous volume of sensitive data that requires efficient storage and management. However, despite the looming data volumes and recent advancement in statistical and machine learning techniques for inference and predictive analysis, these techniques are still under-utilised in Ghana.

As the economy grows and evolves through digitisation, and as data volumes increase, these data science solutions will become increasingly useful for quick, efficient and reliable extraction and evaluation of information from the datasets and to support evidence-based predictions.  As a result, there is an urgent need to develop facilities and a skills-based workforce in data analytics that will be capable of manipulating big datasets to make meaningful contributions to the Ghanaian economy. However, these goals can only be achieved if modern computing infrastructure/ hardware and software solutions are available.

This STFC funded project will lay the foundation of a modern computing facility which will be hosted by GRAO and iDAM to provide the technical support and capacity building activities. iDAM has long-term plans to establish a one-stop data management hub to tackle data challenges in Ghana and is currently working with the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) and the DARA project to deliver data curation services.

Kakum Park, Nkrumah Museum, GRAO Observatory

This project will address a major societal challenge in the area of big data management in Ghana and aims to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through skills development programmes in data management and data science boosting new careers and economic growth and delivering quality data management services to the people of Ghana. The project will share regular updates via the JGI blog. If you would like to know more about this project, and would like to collaborate, please contact us via

Bristol Data Week 2020 took place online with data science talks, training and workshops

Bristol Data Week is an annual week-long series of talks, seminars and workshops in data science and data-intensive research, open to both University of Bristol attendees, as well as external individuals and organisations.  

A week of talks, workshops and training in data science  

Talks included the role of data science in the COVID-19 response, data and social change, increasing engagement in your data through visualisations and insights into projects revolutionising healthcare and engineering through machine learning. The Advanced Computer Research Centre (ACRC) team ran training sessions daily as part of the week, including data analysis in Python, deep learning and software engineering. Other sessions included managing sensitive research data and Tableau.  

Taking Data Week Online  

By taking the event online it was possible to accommodate higher numbers of attendees and over the course of the week we welcomed 945 participants attending 13 events via Blue Jeans, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  Attendees came from across all Faculties at the University of Bristol, other universities nationally and internationally, as well as charities and industry. It was a truly global event, with participants joining from as far afield as Australia, Netherlands, Finland, India, Kenya, Ghana, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and United States.  

This is what some of the attendees said:  

“Brilliant experience of #DataWeekOnline so far. Positive of global pandemic is removal of geographical barriers. Delivering engaging content online is no mean feat and @JGIBristol have certainly delivered!”   

“Very enjoyable, just the right speed, appreciate the course notes and You Tube video to look at later for practice and reinforcement”  

“Perfect pace and perfect explanation and support”  

Thanks to everyone involved 

We would like to thank our collaborators, without which Data Week Online 2020 would not have been possible: Advanced Computing Research Centre, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Health Data Strand, Luna 9, Mango Solutions, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, Population Health Sciences, Tableau, The Alan Turing Institute, The Information Lab and University of Bristol Library Research Services. 

What’s next  

The Jean Golding Institute continue to host regular data science co-working meetings for the remainder of the academic year and coming soon is a new data competition in collaboration with the Food Standards Agency. 

More information  

For slides and films from Data Week Online 2020 please visit Data Week Online 2020 

COVID-19 and community support: Mapping unmet support needs across Wales

Project team: Dr Oliver Davis, Dr Valerio Maggio, Dr Alastair Tanner, Nina Di Cara, Chris Moreno-Stokoe, Benjamin Woolf.

Since the pandemic started, communities have been mobilising to help each other; from shopping for elderly neighbours, to offering to offering a friendly face or other support.  Mutual aid networks have sprung up all over the country, and neighbours who hadn’t previously spoken have been introduced to each other via street-level WhatsApp groups. But the degree to which offers of help are matching up with the need for help has been unknown, and this poses a problem for organisations who need to make decisions about where they should target limited resources.

Screenshot from the site.

Ensuring support is available where needed

Community support can offer a protective factor against adverse events. Some areas are more vulnerable than others, but knowing which areas are most likely to have a mismatch between support needed and support offered is difficult. To address this issue, a collaboration between the Public Health Wales Research & Evaluation Division and the Dynamic Genetics lab, part of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol and supported by the Alan Turing Institute, has mapped these support offers and needs.

Using data from Wales Council for Voluntary Action, COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Welsh Government Statistics and Research, the Office for National Statistics, and social media the project team have created a live map that highlights the areas where further support for communities may be needed. It shows data on support factors, such as number of registered volunteers and population density, against risks, such as demographics, levels of deprivation, and internet access. It aims to inform the responses of national and local government, as well as support providers in Wales.

The site also provides the links to local community groups identified helping to raise awareness of the support available locally.

This map is part of an effort to better understand which communities have better community cohesion and organisation. We are keen to find out your views on how this can be more useful, or other community mobilisation data sources which could be included. Please contact Oliver or Nina with your comments:

Dr Oliver Davis:
Nina Di Cara







Further information


JGI Post Graduate Researchers seed corn funding winners 2020 announced

The winners: Mayra Rivera, Thomas Statham, Xiaoran Liang, Hugo Alcaraz Herrera, Lenka Hasova, Katie Winkle

JGI Seed Corn scheme

The Jean Golding Institute are pleased to announce the Post Graduate Researcher seed corn funding awards. Every year we provide seed corn funding to Post Doctoral Researchers, but this year we are pleased to also be able to provide funding to small-scale projects for Post Graduate Researchers at the University of Bristol, which we hope will help to develop their projects further. Through our seed corn funding scheme we aim to support initiatives to develop interdisciplinary research in data science (including Artificial Intelligence) and data-intensive research. 

The winners

  •  Hugo Alcaraz Herrera 

Hugo is studying for a PhD in Evolutionary Computing and Machine Learning. Hugo’s research fields are Evolutionary Computing (mainly Genetic Algorithms and Genetic Programming) and Machine Learning (supervised learning). He has applied these techniques to solve problems related to logistic processes. Hugo’s project is called ‘Evolutionary Systems for personalised wellbeing recommendations’ – a food and physical activity data-driven user study. 

  •  Mayra Rivera Lopez 

Mayra is a third year postgraduate researcher. Her doctoral research investigates the data driven design and optimization of novel ultra-thin radiation resistant nanocomposite structures for space applications. She has collaborated on publications with members from University of Surrey and ESA. Prior to her PhD she obtained her MEng (Honours) in Aerospace engineering at the University of Bristol. Mayra’s project is called ‘Optimisation of ultra-thin radiation resistant composites structures for space applications’. 

  •  Katie Winkle 

Katie Winkle is studying for a PhD in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. Katie’s project is called ‘Real-time, On-Board Robot Assessment of In-the-Wild Child Social Dynamics for Supporting Education’. The aim of the project is to develop a system that can automatically, in real time, identify the social engagement, and/or social attitudes of children that are interacting with each other in a classroom context based on an audio/video feed.  

  •  Xiaoran Liang 

Xiaoran Liang is undertaking a PhD in Evidence-Based Economics (joint graduate school of Ludwig-Maximilian University Munich, FAU Nuremberg, University of Regensburg and KU Eichstätt Ingolstadt). Xiaoran ’s project is ‘Agglomerative Hierarchical Clustering Method for Identifying Valid Instruments and Heterogenous Causal Effects with Applications in Genetic Epidemiology and International Economics’. This project aims to develop a novel data-driven method to select valid instrumental variables for causal analysis with interdisciplinary applications in health and international economics.  

  • Lenka Hasova 

Lenka Hasova is studying for a PhD in Advanced Quantitative Methods. Lenka’s project is ‘Modelling Mobility Trajectories: Exploring Individuals spatial behaviour and assessing the trend of the Bristol population spatial interaction’. This project focuses on analysing individuals movement trails in Bristol, which can be retrieved from the individuals locational traces captured by their mobile devices. By investigating the movement trajectories, each stop and preferred destinations we can better understand individuals spatial preferences and spatial behaviour. This knowledge will be then used in building more comprehensive models of human spatial interaction and its prediction.  

  • Thomas Statham 

Thomas Statham is undertaking a PhD in Advanced Quantitative Methods in the School of Geography. Thomas’s project is ‘Applying deep learning and high resolution satellite imagery to estimate income at the urban neighbourhood level’. This pilot study applies deep learning to produce spatially explicit income distributions for several urban areas in Europe. Training on high resolution satellite imagery and small area income data, this research fills important data gaps for future urban research and policy.  

The projects

Due to the COVID-19 circumstances, unfortunately not all projects are able to start immediately. However, three projects have already started (Katie Winkle, Mayra Rivera and Xiaoran Liang), and we will provide updates on those and the other winners (if those that are delayed can start in the future) on the JGI blog. 

Thanks to all that participated in this call and congratulations to the winners! 

More information

For more information about this and other funding and projects we have supported, take a look at our Projects page on the JGI website and read about different Funding schemes we offer and provide information about. 

GCRF-ESRC funding success to explore access to the essential services of water, sanitation and energy in areas of rapid population growth and informal settlements.

Professor Guy Howard in collaboration with Professor Kate Robson Brown, Dr Jitendra Agarwal, Dr Maria Pregnolato, Dr Sam Williamson and colleagues from external partners will receive £1.7M for the project “Beyond the networked city: building innovative delivery systems for water, sanitation and energy in urban Africa”

The vision for this project is to develop and test in two African cities a mixed economy model of on-grid and off-grid systems to deliver water, sanitation and energy services to marginalised people.. Central to their thinking is that both on-grid and off-grid systems should provide users with the same safety and adequacy of service.

Professor Robson Brown will be involved in geospatial analysis of the urban settlements, mapping current access, future development and assessing hazards and risks, using official data sources as well as land-use, topographical maps and high resolution remotely sensed data to produce detailed maps of current coverage with on and off-grid water, sanitation and energy services. This will input into the analysis and overall assessment of service development.

Professor Robson Brown said: ‘The importance of access to clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy, is enshrined in SDG 6 and 7. This project will harness the power of data science to predict risk to urban development and service delivery in Africa, and it is a privilege to be part of such a multidisciplinary and international team working to improves the lives of people in rapidly growing cities.’

We will keep you updated on the project achievements on our blog pages.