COVID-19 - Update from ODI Leeds

It was mid-March when we announced that the ODI Leeds innovation space would have to close as part of the coronavirus pandemic recommendations. The team has shown amazing adaptability and dedication during these challenging times, and a lot has happened in a short space of time (which is nothing new really).

We've been monitoring the situation and reviewing everything as the weeks have progressed. In line with recommendations to continue physical distancing and no gatherings, the event space, meeting rooms, and coworking desks at ODI Leeds will be closed until further notice. When things change, we will issue a new email update and update things across our website too.

#OpenDataSavesLives & COVID-19

Within days of starting the lockdown, we organised the first online session for #OpenDataSavesLives focused on coronavirus and COVID-19. This wasn't just about the data - this was about finding out what people were working on, what they needed to complete projects, and so on. The online sessions have been taking place every Thursday from 11am, and go from strength to strength not only in terms of attendees but in the reach and scope of who turns up to help out. Below is a simple summary of some amazing outcomes so far, but we would recommend visiting the Google Doc to see the notes in full:

  • establishing use cases for data publishers, like NHS Digital, so that more data can be released with purpose and intent
  • Matthew from British Red Cross shared his work on a vulnerability index, which is available via GitHub
  • the Open Data Institute have shared their brand new programme of support for organisations to help them publish and share more data during the pandemic
  • connecting various local authorities and community-based organisations

There are still some pervasive problems that come up in every session and they aren't new problems - they are problems that we have encountered before and that countless other people have been trying to challenge for a while. Moving #OpenDataSavesLives forward for everyone requires these core problems to be fixed. So what happens next? We try to fix them.

For example, a recurring problem is the centralisation of data. Many organisations have said they are providing data to a central place but very rarely get anything back, like similar open data from other organisations who are also sending their data to the same central place.

Our next push for #OpenDataSavesLives is to get the right people in the room who can help fix these problems. The online sessions will continue every week until at least the end of May and we post updates to the website on the dedicated web-page.


In mid-April, the Emergent alliance was announced and has been featured on websites like UKAuthority, Computer Weekly, the Yorkshire Post, Prolific North, and ZDNet to name just a few. The founding organisations - Rolls Royce, R2 Data Labs, Truata, White.Space, IBM, Google Cloud, LIDA, The Data City, and ODI Leeds - have all come together to demonstrate exceptional collaboration for these exceptional times, looking to explore the way forward for a post-pandemic world.

We are thrilled to be involved in this alliance, where we will be utilising our experience of open innovation to drive the delivery of open outcomes, sharing of methodologies and models, and publishing open data. Everyone will be thinking about 'recovery,' and no single sector or industry will recover in isolation so the outcomes of this revolutionary alliance need to be accessible so that we can all benefit.


We're not going to let a simple thing like no physical event space stop us from hosting an important innovation event. Building on the success of #PlanetData from last year, #PlanetData2 is part of Leeds Digital Festival and has been developed in collaboration with EY. They have been working on some interesting decarbonisation projects with their clients, and their own net zero plans are ambitious. With a long-term view to further #PlanetData events in the future, we want to use #PlanetData2 to keep conversations going, introduce some more opportunities to connect with others, and think about tangible climate action, big and small. The event was a success with some fantastic new work being shared, which generated some new conversations and a renewed appetite for collaboration. Catch up via the #PlanetData2 website and look out for news of the next event.

Building a data asset for Leeds

Working together is important during this crisis and everyone seems to be recognising it all at once. In a moment of serendipity, conversations with different people have all ended with a similar purpose and outcome. In mid-April, we announced that we would be working with Slingshot Simulations on their digital twin project, helping to convene people and data around the work in order to create a simulated city. Before that, we began conversations with Network Rail when they became the newest sponsor of ODI Leeds to discover what they wanted to explore via open data. If we also sprinkle in some of the use cases from #OpenDataSavesLives, we see a huge desire for local data that can be used to create a more accurate picture of the places we live and work. Instead of models being based on assumptions, they can be based on data, allowing organisations and businesses to plan and prepare for whatever comes next in these challenging times.

So all of these disparate conversations have come together on a potential project to build a 'data asset' for Leeds (that could no doubt be scaled and replicated beyond). We will keep you posted via our blog and via email as opportunities to get involved arise.

How you can help

We want to thank our sponsors and all of our partners, collaborators, and fab folk in the data community for the continued support during these challenging times.

At ODI Leeds, we are open to alternative methods of raising funds to keep vital projects like #OpenDataSavesLives going. Offering merchandise won't fill the gap left behind by venue hire but it will help keep us ticking over. We have started with a very special #OpenDataSavesLives t-shirt campaign - based on our team 'uniform' t-shirts, the #OpenDataSavesLives t-shirt is available in white with an electric blue logo on the front and back.