Tech innovation index reveals surprising trends

By Tom Forth, co-founder and head of data at The Data City.

The Digital and Technology sectors have been in the news recently, and we have welcomed findings from the Tech Nation 2018 report that the industry has been growing 2.6 times faster than the rest of the economy and, just as importantly, that digital tech is thriving right across the UK.

While London still leads the league tables, towns and cities from Stoke to Slough are also a rich source of activity.

At The Data City, supported by the Open Data Institute as part of their innovation programme, we have also been conducting research into where innovation in tech is strongest, and our most recent findings are detailed in the second UK Tech Innovation Index, which shows some surprising trends.

Our index captures the UK’s strengths across five key areas which are important in the government’s Industrial Strategy – AI and Data, Clean Growth, Smart Cities and Mobility, Ageing Society, and Advanced Manufacturing.

We used multiple data sources and machine learning to create an interactive map which goes beyond standard geographies, revealing previously unaccounted for vital business and academic links across cities and county boundaries, and demonstrating that innovation communities are often made up of people and businesses in different cities or conurbations.

Rather than artificially focussing on innovation by town, city or region, our clusters fit the data, resulting in a revealing picture that shows areas such as Burnley having close links with Manchester and Stoke, and a strong link across the River Severn between Cardiff and Bristol.

This gives a new picture of innovation networks across the UK, providing an interactive online tool which uses regularly updated open datasets that others can use and explore.

This will help show policy makers, investors and businesses how different sources of data can be brought together to cast a different light on innovation in the UK. By making the methodology and data open, we hope that others can build on this work.

More data than ever before is being used to understand our economy, and radical openness is changing everything. Existing and new institutions are now able to benefit from this openness, which enables them to answer questions in new ways, providing valuable perspective to governments, communities, businesses, and geographies. International and local will matter as much as national. Independent, trusted, and innovative ways of working will overtake established practices.

The Data City is working to be one of these new institutions. Part of being radically open means sharing what we find, and how we find it, so that we learn from other people, inspire some more, and scare others. This is why all the data behind the UK Tech Innovation Index 2 is available for free, with an open license. We’ve been doing this for years, and recently more and more organisations are joining in. We think that’s fantastic.

We are delighted that Tech Nation has embraced the open data revolution and integrated it into its new report, making the data and sources underlying its most recent report openly available. More and more organisations are embracing this new spirit of openness and we welcome the new developments that we can all benefit from.

For example, City REDI at the University of Birmingham, are using website analysis to classify industries in the same way that we do, Nesta and Frontier Economics have completed early work with Meetup data that inspired us; the ONS has a data science campus – exploring alternatives sources of data for experimental national statistics, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS has used spatial clustering techniques similar to ours to explore moving beyond fixed geographies for analysing the economy.

We would love to hear from more organisations that are embracing the open data revolution and embracing a future that is independent, pioneering, and radically open.