1st Digital Footprints Conference at Bristol!

Last month I had the pleasure of organising and co-chairing (with Michelle Morris) the 1st Digital Footprints Conference, which took place at the University of Bristol in the magnificent Wills Memorial Building. We conceived this one-day event to be a space for our growing multidisciplinary and multi-sector community to make connections through sharing experiences, knowledge, methods, successes and failures. The event was even better than we could have hoped – attended by nearly 70 colleagues from a variety of academic disciplines as well as industry, government, funding bodies, think tanks and charities. 

We accepted over 30 presentations – some of which were presented as flash talks and others as posters. All of those will be published in IJPDS later this summer. The conference closed with an incredibly insightful panel chaired by Michelle Morris with James Goulding, Hannah Skeggs and Alisha Davies discussing the future of Digital Footprints research. The overwhelming feedback from conference attendees was that there was a real buzz and excitement in the room about all the  varied and innovative research going on in this area, and the possibilities for the future development and impact. 

We had three great speakers to set the scene. Emma Gordon from Administrative Data Research (ADR) UK discussed lessons that Digital Footprints community can learn from ADR UK, and the complexities of working with a diverse range of stakeholders. Deborah Kroll from Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) covered the roadmap for the current exciting UKRI/ESRC DigitalFootrpints programme and how our community can contribute to the development of its strategy and vision. Tom Smith from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities talked about the impact that Digital Footprints can have on policy and the work of government departments , with a specific focus on social inequalities. We need to work more on getting our research ‘out there’, especially because Digital Footprints data and research holds enormous potential to influence a range of policies, both on local and national level. 

My three personal take-home messages from the conference are: 

(1) There is a community of likeminded researchers who are excited to share knowledge, and are supportive and keen to work together. It was great to see PhD students presenting their work, some for the first time, and having lots of encouragement and positive feedback. This needs to be preserved – we need to give more support for PhD students and Early Career Researchers to be able to grow their profiles and develop their unique lines of research in this complex, multidisciplinary area of research. 

(2) The meeting had good representation of academics from a variety of disciplines ,but less so of industry, policy-makers, third sector and other stakeholders.  Without industry, policy-makers, health professionals, and others in the room, it will be difficult to move forward with establishing routes to collaborate, share data and deliver impact. We need to do better next year, and engage more widely with different stakeholder groups to build on meaningful and productive conversations about how to work together. 

(3) There are pockets of research all over the country with interesting work being done, but often people don’t know about each other’s work. There is a variety of disciplines and approaches, which is a strength of DF research, but also sometimes can be a barrier to sharing knowledge. We need to invest time and resources into growing our DF community. 

Once again, I want to thank everybody who helped to run and organise the conference, to all who attended, submitted abstracts, prepared their talks, posters, and to everyone for being engaged, supportive and curious about each others’ work. 

I am also delighted to announce that we are already planning Digital Footprints 24, so save the date and spread the word. It will be 8th and 9th of May 2024 at the University of Bristol. More info to follow in the next few months! 

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