In 2012, the Innovation Centre Programme was launched by the Scottish Funding Council in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to support the transformational collaboration between universities and businesses.

As part of the programme seven centres were created to support innovation and entrepreneurship across Scotland’s key economic sectors including data science.

Data science and analytics work are cross-sectoral and play a huge role in our daily lives. Now more than ever we rely on data as the world navigates its way through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fraser Macdonald, Project Development Manager at The Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF, based within The Data Lab, discusses the work of the data science sector and how this is helping to make a difference to lives not only in Scotland but the world.

Fraser Macdonald

Fraser Macdonald, Project Development Manager at The Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF.

About The Data Lab

The Data Lab was founded as part of the Innovation Centre Programme in 2014 and now has operational hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

Its mission is to help Scotland maximise value from data and to lead the world to a data-powered future through collaboration, growing talent and strengthening its thriving data science community. It acts as a catalyst, using expertise, network, funding and platforms to change how Scotland, and the world, innovates with data.

Business development

We have grown significantly since our launch in 2014. We have three areas that we focus on; skills and talent, events and our Support to Innovate programme.

The Support to Innovate programme helps organisations to access the academic, specialist expertise and project support they need to build effective partnerships and innovate successfully with data. As part of this, we provide companies the option to fund postgraduate students for placements or collaborative research partnerships.

When we first started the placement programme, we had 22 funded spaces, and this has now grown to more than 150 MSc placements. The number of universities involved with the project is growing too, with the University of Highlands and Islands being the latest institution to join.

We also have several external funding options and learning programmes designed to help businesses grow and develop.


We have a full programme of events that would typically take place in person across Scotland over the year, including meet ups and training in addition to our annual festival, DataFest.

DataFest was originally a single event called Data Talent Scotland, aimed at offering our MSc students’ insight into jobs and opportunities available within data science. We realised the potential for the growth data focused events and we now host a fortnightly festival combining more than 70 different events across numerous Scottish cities. In 2021 the festival will take from March to November with the overarching theme of #OurData - focusing on Scotland as a community which can collect, create, and use our data for good. We’ll be exploring these ideas across three themed weeks; #OurFuture, #OurPeople and #OurPlanet.

The festival puts the data science community and its technological advancements centre stage. When we talk about innovation in Scotland many think of past achievements i.e., Dolly the sheep. Of course, that is a fantastic example of world-class innovation, but there is much more being developed that will have a great impact on our lives in the next decade.

Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF

The Data for Children Collaborative is a three-year partnership between the Scottish Government, UNICEF, and the University of Edinburgh’s Data Driven Innovation programme, which seeks to use data responsibly to improve outcomes for every child. It draws on the strength of its partners and their network to bring insight and solve problems using data and innovative data practices.

I am a project development manager for the partnership, and I focus primarily on establishing collaborative teams that can solve the complex challenges brought to us by our partners. Recently, one of our teams has been undertaking research into the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 on the younger generation. The first task was to understand what data already existed relating to this topic, and whether details about this data could help us understand more about the impacts of the pandemic on children, and by extension how to tackle them.

UNICEF helps us to understand where the greatest challenges facing children are globally, but we also recognise that there are some real challenges in Scotland that we are well placed to help solve.

We have just started a project which looks at understanding poverty and attainment across a number of regions in Scotland. This is a critical issue for the Northern Alliance, a regional improvement collaborative between local authorities, which seeks to improve the educational and life chances of young people. Within the research we are looking into different factors, such as: how young people are affected by where they live, how data can be used to understand poverty and how poverty affects attainment.

This is a very real issue for Scotland’s children, and gives us a great opportunity to showcase our innovative solutions and how they can be replicated across the globe.

What is next for the Data Lab?

We're focusing a lot of effort on using data to understand what our world looks like post-Covid. One of the areas we are looking into is how as a country we react to Covid-19 in terms of green recovery and how businesses can reopen and grow in a green way.

In addition to this we are working on some exciting new products.

We are developing an online community platform where organisations = engage and connect with each other. It will be a community space where users can interact, access resources and information. We are in the process of launching a pilot of platform, which we will share with some of our partner organisations to test it and feedback to us. We’re hoping to launch this in autumn 2021.

To discover more about The Data Lab visit -