Data-Driven Innovation funds 19 projects to fight COVID-19

In April, as one part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Data-Driven Innovation Programme allocated up to £200,000+ in small grants to enable our staff and students  to apply data-driven-innovation ideas in support of communities, services and businesses in the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland Region.

We received 36 innovative ideas from staff and students from across the University. Over three rounds, a panel of ten from across the University agreed to fund nineteen projects covering a range of diverse areas. Through these projects we will be collaborating with global and local partners including the Scottish Government, NHS Lothian, Sopra Steria, Inbest, The List, Breadshare and many more. These project are outlined in detail below:

Round 1

Jessica Hafetz Mirman

School of Health in Social Science
CoronaReport – a citizen science approach for supporting vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis 

Awarded: £9,743 

This project aims to conduct a data-driven needs assessment utilising citizen-science methods with people and families living in or near poverty in communities in Edinburgh. The data from the needs assessment will be used as inputs into a community organising initiative conducted in collaboration with Faith in Community to raise awareness of citizens’ specific needs, identify available resources and assets to meet these needs, and connect citizens with the resources and assets that they need.


Bonnie Auyeung and Louise Marryat

Edinburgh Futures Institute

School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Covid-19 in pregnancy 

Awarded: £18,000 

This project aims to explore the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy to allow health services to make informed decisions on where to target resource and how to inform women and their families accurately.”

This project aims to bring together routine health data on pregnancy and birth for babies born in March and April 2020 in Scotland, and match these with a cohort of demographically similar babies born in the same months in 2018. This project will conduct an early analysis of pregnancy and birth outcomes, and feed these results directly back to the NHS, Scottish Government, midwives and health visitors.


Gauthier Collas

University of Edinburgh Business School


Awarded: £4,662

The project aims to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the financial health of small businesses of the food industry in Edinburgh and the Lothian region by introducing a B2B platform for local food producers and restaurants.

The marketplace-model platform enables restaurants to source more easily and reliably from local food producers. The direct B2B channel of distribution will maintain the needed level of activity to recover from the crisis. Also, the marketplace model enables data generation and improves financial recovery thanks to better access to data. Indeed, it will give to the users different KPIs on sales – inventory management – sourcing trends. The goal is to enable efficient return to normal activity with better analytics, and better use of data.


Ewelina Lacka

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School
Post- Covid-19 Edinburgh Tourism Recovery 

Awarded: £9,221 

The recently announced cancellation of the August festivals alone will have a devastating impact to the local economy. While the health and safety of visitors is of paramount importance, it is vital that an effective recovery plan is in place to ensure a responsible and sustainable revival of tourism businesses and the employment that this brings to the city. The aim of this project is to work with the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group to assist Edinburgh-based tourism businesses in their efforts to recover from the impact of Covid-19 by analysing data to support targeted marketing once measures are gradually lifted.


Alessandro Rosiello

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School
Impact of Covid-19 on High-Growth Businesses in Edinburgh City Region and Beyond

Awarded: £4,654 

This project has been designed to capture the impact of Covid-19 on SMEs in the Edinburgh City Region in comparison to Scotland and the rest of the UK.  In our region we have a relatively high number of high-growth start–ups and early-stage businesses, and tracking the details of the challenges of Covid-19 crisis is vital for informing the local (and national) government, support agencies and managers to devise effective responses. The project aims to develop a comprehensive body of evidence to show how businesses are coping with Covid-19 and associated measures and propose further interventions most likely to be effective in combating the economic impact of the pandemic.


Fiona Denison 

Usher Institute

The University of Edinburgh Medical School
Data driven evaluation of rapid national implementation of home blood pressure monitoring for shielded and high-risk pregnant women to reduce risk of Covid-19 by reducing hospital/face-to-face consultation

Awarded: £18,000 

This project aims to assess whether rapid implementation of home blood pressure monitoring (HBPM) in pregnant women across Scotland reduces the number of face-to-face consultations for high-risk (Class 1 and 2, as defined by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists1) pregnant and postnatal women during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Paul Bessell, Lisa Boden, Mark Bronsvoort, Giles Innocent, Ian Handel, Stella Mazeri, Thibaud Porphyre 

Easter Bush

Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Understanding the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Scotland to design and model lockdown exit strategies: A risk-based approach to policy prioritisation 

Awarded: £18,000 

The project aim is to draw on experiences and expertise from animal epidemics and risk governance to improve the understanding of the epidemiology of the Scottish epidemic to inform policy and decision making. This project we will:

  • Communicate to stakeholders the pertinent findings form mathematical modelling research
  • Map populations that are at increased risk of developing severe disease.
  • Extend an initial dashboard to monitor and communicate the status of the outbreak.
  • Collate available but fragmented surveillance data from local communities in Scotland to better measure asymptomatic infections.
  • Repurpose emergency response mathematical modelling framework to explore a range of exit strategies for Scotland.
  • Conduct survey of a geographically stratified sample of GP practices and from NHS-111 to collate data on mild cases within different social and demographic strata to improve understanding on the scale of spread and transmission in communities


Round 2


Michael Rovatsos

Bayes Centre

School of Informatics

OpportunityMatch – a web-based tool to match opportunities and people

Awarded: £10,000

This project aims to develop a web-based tool to match experts with opportunities such as challenge descriptions, funding programme and project ideas. The tool will allow opportunity-to-expert, expert-to-expert, and opportunity-to-opportunity matching and create automated emails to users based on customised alerts. Stable releases will be immediately made available to all University staff and students, including important user groups such as researchers, business developers, and research support administrators.


Morgan Currie

Edinburgh Futures Institute

Social and Political Sciences

Art in & after Lockdown: Recovering Edinburgh’s Cultural Spaces

Awarded: £13,657

This project is partnering with LeithLate to build on their successful walking tour of the area’s murals and shutter art since 2015. Due to Covid-19 the in-person walking tours are not occurring in 2020. This projects virtual tour would, in part, help to compensate the artists involved and give their work online visibility, while reaching new online audiences. This project also aims to link their existing data to bus routes to create curated tours that encourage residents and tourists to explore Edinburgh’s cultural assets beyond the City Centre. Central to the tours are tour-guide pamphlets that showcase cultural spaces within 500 meters of each bus stop. The maps draw on the Culture and Community Mapping Project’s dataset and will be promoted by the Council’s Culture Office; they plan to be available on the Culture and Communities Mapping Project website.  

For more information:


Raffaella Calabrese

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School

Supporting people entitled to benefits to receive affordable loans

Awarded: £11,328

The main aims of this project are to support vulnerable people to identify the benefits that they are entitled to and to provide short term affordable lending to bridge the gap that will be repaid once the individuals receive their benefits. We propose to support lenders in making such decisions by providing a credit application check that takes into account the amount of benefits that the applicant is entitled to receive.

This will be achieved by developing and applying the Inbest Benefits calculator that uses individuals’ banking data to calculate the income benefits users can claim and monitors their entitlement according to changes in their financial situation. They will then use the data derived from the Benefits calculator as an input into existing credit scoring model to enable lenders to use this information to make short-term lending decisions for individuals who otherwise may fail to meet the standard credit risk models. Additionally, they will suggest a repayment schedule based on the applicant’s timeframe of receiving the benefits and their expense behaviour. The project also has the support of Scotcash and Advice Direct Scotland, who will provide expert feedback and insights based on their intimate knowledge of consumers’ financial needs and problems.


Round 3


Suwen Chen and Professor Neil Pollock

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School

From surviving to thriving: How to tackle the challenges of a global pandemic and help to build a stronger local food system and prosperous community

Awarded: £8237.50

Founded in July 2011, Breadshare is a multi-award winning social enterprise (i.e. a hybrid form of traditional business and charity) based in Edinburgh whose mission is to make “Real Bread for Everyone.” COVID-19 has posed significant challenges to Breadshare, including the loss of wholesale customers, reduction of physical visits to stores by retail customers, cancellations of face to face bread-making workshops etc. As a response, it is trying to survive by opening an online store for home delivery, offering virtual bread-making workshops, and collaborating with other local businesses and community hubs to support each other.

As one of the 6,000 Scottish social enterprises, Breadshare is not alone in this battle. The importance of social enterprises has been emphasised in Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-2026 that they are “central to achieving our shared vision of a fair society and inclusive economy.” Therefore, this research project aims to investigate: “How to help the survival of Breadshare by transforming its business model from purely offline to a hybrid of the online and offline model?” This will be based upon the evaluation of the effectiveness of the new measures taken by Breadshare amid COVID-19, analysis of customers’ motivation and behaviour change, and other data of industry development and government policies.



Galina Andreeva

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School

Lessons from the past crises for the Scottish hospitality sector and implications for COVID-19

Awarded: £10,438.71

Hospitality is currently one of the worst affected sectors of the economy due to travel restrictions and lockdown. There are concerns that many companies in this sector will not be able to recover. Nevertheless, there is no analysis at the company level, i.e. which companies suffered most, and which were able to recover quickly. This project intends to fill in this gap by developing data-driven quantitative models that will predict the insolvency/financial distress of tourism and hospitality companies caused by previous epidemics and generate forecast scenarios for recovery of Scottish hospitality sector following the current crisis.

This project will explore the last 20 years of financial statements for businesses within the international tourist & hospitality sector. The work is based on a collaboration with Wiserfunding – a London-based fintech that offers innovative solutions for SME risk assessment. To build its risk models, Wiserfunding uses extensive financial and non-financial information on the SMEs. The outputs will inform the policy recommendations by formulating the recipes for successful survival that will be targeted at business managers and regulators.


Rik Sarkar

Bayes Centre

School of Informatics

SIM-SPREAD: Data Driven Simulation and Modelling for Infection Spread Reduction and Cultural and Economic Reopening in Edinburgh.

Awarded: £17,379

This project has developed a probabilistic simulation framework that uses real mobility data from citizens to deduce the likely rate of spread of a disease. It studies the effect of different ambient restrictions such as restricted mobility, closure of some fraction of venues in the city, segregating citizens into random groups etc. The simulations can incorporate various virus-specific properties such as incubation period and asymptomatic carriers.

The project aims to enhance its analysis for greater statistical reliability, and will adapt the simulations to the specific scenario of Edinburgh and the types of datasets they have available. The projects partners from City of Edinburgh Council, Festivals Edinburgh and EventScotland will assist with insights and stakeholder priorities. Academics at Edinburgh Napier University are a specialist in Festival and Event Management, and will work closely with the team at the School of Informatics to further articulate partners insight needed to make critical decisions and to translate their discoveries into practical actions and recommendations for festivals, events and the City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture Department.


Andrea Wilson

Easter Bush

The Roslin Institute and Royal Dick School of Vetinary Sciences

Data-driven now-casting & fore-casting of health-care resource requirements associated with COVID-19 in Edinburgh and South-East Scotland

Awarded: £13,220.30

This project aims to generate evidence-based data-driven predictions of the effect of COVID-19 on the short- and long-term demands on primary health care and hospital resources in Edinburgh and South-East Scotland. This project will provide short term predictions (or ‘nowcasts’) of COVID-19 incidence and associated resource demands for the health service and hospitals in SE Scotland, and longer-term predictions (or ‘forecasts’) based on anticipated future COVID-19 exit strategies. These will help individual health care units and hospitals in SE Scotland to optimally distribute their available resources, and governments to optimally coordinate distribution of resources across these units. Optimal distribution of these resources will not only mitigate the devastating effects of COVID-19 on people’s health and survival, but also the indirect side-effects on other physical and mental illnesses for which effective prevention and treatment is impeded due to COVID-19


Stewart Mercer and Stella Chan

Usher Institute

Edinburgh Medical School

Soothe and Care: Promoting compassion & positive mood in Edinburgh and South-East Scotland to fight mental health issues exacerbated by COVID-19 lock down 

Awarded: £15,000

CogniHealth is a social tech startup based in Edinburgh that has created digital solutions to support families affected by dementia. This project aims to create an evidenced-based and personalised therapeutic activity for carers who are struggling to cope with the current crisis. It will build a ‘soothing’ feature within CogniHealth’s existing app, based on the citizen science programme “Project Soothe”. With the technical feasibility of the Cognihealth app already proven, a readymade, and in need, user base and the proven soothing qualities of the Project Soothe images it is believed that this project is deliverable at pace and with quickly measurable impact in the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland target area.

The new feature will enable users to access and view soothing images. These images will be sourced from an existing database of 800 images that have been collected from the public and have previously been shown to help improve people’s mood. Users will be able to personalise the images based on their preferences (e.g. themes, colours) and tell CongiHealth how they feel and the impact the imagery has had to their mental health. It is an activity that can be done alone or together, sharing the experience either physically or virtually.


D K Arvind

Bayes Centre

School of Informatics

Monitoring COVID-19 Patients using the Respeck device at the Lothian Regional Infectious Diseases Unit (RIDU)

Awarded: £20,964

COVID-19 virus is the inflammation of lung tissues, and the exhibition of patterns of dyspnea – shortness of breath, and elevated respiratory rates above 30 breaths/minute. Current practice in hospital wards is for nurses to estimate manually and record the respiratory rate at hourly intervals with the exact period based on the prognosis of the attending physician. The hypothesis of this project is that continuous respiratory monitoring (minute-level frequency) may reveal underlying trends and patterns that are missed when only using the current manual snapshot measurements.

The Respeck device, developed in the Centre for Speckled Computing, School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, is worn as a plaster on the chest and transmits wirelessly continuous measures of the respiratory rate/flow to a mobile phone for onward transmission to the GoogleCloud for storage. The Respeck time-series data will be analysed using a selection of machine learning based methods for clearly identifiable patterns, with good sensitivity and specificity that could be used to predict deterioration in COVID-19 patients.

The patients in the isolation rooms at the Lothian Regional Infectious Diseases Unit (RIDU) in the Western General Hospital will each be attached with a Respeck on admission. The latest minute average of the respiratory rates for all the patients and their trends over the previous four to six hours can be viewed in a dashboard on a mobile device such as a tablet. At a glance the nurses can view and interrogate the status and trends in the respiratory rate for all the patients in the hospital ward.


David Weller

Usher Institute

School of Molecular, Genetic and Population Sciences

Covid19 and diagnostic/treatment pathways for lung and colorectal cancer in SE Scotland: Measuring the impact and facilitating recovery

Awarded: £21,993.00

This data-driven project will provide information on key aspects of cancer diagnostic services and treatment services in SE Scotland. It’s vital to know about how long it’s taking patients to have their cancers diagnosed and treated, the types of investigations they are getting, the cancer detection rates, and the emergency admission rates. This project will examine cohorts of patients diagnosed during and after the covid19 epidemic, and make comparisons with pre-covid data. It will undertake long-term follow-up to examine the impact on survival and mortality. These analyses will help in bringing cancer services out of the covid19 era, and lessening the negative impact on cancer outcomes for patients in SE Scotland.


Tina Harrison

Edinburgh Futures Institute

University of Edinburgh Business School

Covid-19 Support Finder

Awarded: £12,904

This project between the University of Edinburgh, Sopra Steria and a third distribution partner will launch a tool directly to the vulnerable citizen via their digital channels to help them navigate and find the most suitable financial and emotional support. The tool will take the user through a number of questions to determine their circumstances (e.g. loss of income, poor mental health, bereavement) and direct them to the golden source of information on appropriate support available (e.g. Government Hardship funds, grants for small businesses and the self-employed, NHS-endorsed helplines for emotional support). Finally it would ask users to provide feedback and explain if there isn’t any support available in their specific circumstances


Dave Murray-Rust

Bayes Centre

Design Informatics

Acceptability of digital contact tracing applications

Awarded: £5,058

Digital contact tracing is a key feature of many exit strategies from lockdown – by rapidly sharing potential infections and tracing all of the people who have been in contact, it is hoped that many asymptomatic carriers will self-isolate and reduce the spread of the disease, reducing the replication rate significantly. This needs to be carried out rapidly, there is a clear desire for digital solutions in this space, which can rapidly carry out contact tracing at scale. However, there are issues around ethical use of data – privacy, transparency, data sharing, overreach, feature creep and so on.

The aim of this project is to find out: Which characteristics are important to end users’ choice of whether to i) install and ii) keep a digital contact tracing app and create design guidelines. What explanation is important to end users, and how is this best carried out? Also, how much difference a privacy preserving solution might make in terms of uptake. This project is interested in not just the app, but the manner in which it is deployed, with the intention to discover ways to improve deployment, and places where ethical behaviour supports this.


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