Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC)

Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) | School of Geography | University of Leeds

Social science is concerned with understanding human behaviour patterns. These patterns are increasingly revealed through data which are captured by retailers and other commercial organisations. Example sources of these data include store loyalty cards, smart energy meters, mobile telephone logs, vehicle registrations and smart tickets for trains and buses.

The data are not just interesting to academics, they can provide important insights for delivering health care, building houses or roads, and producing sustainable goods and services with reduced environmental impact.

This project seeks to develop new approaches to social science research which are needed to exploit new sources of consumer data. The ethical use of data for the public good and protecting the privacy, confidentiality and personal rights of individual consumers is of paramount importance.

This research is different for a number of reasons, for example, because activities can be examined continuously and in real time. In the past, a social scientist might have studied 'typical' commuting flows from a residence to a workplace. Now it is much easier to look at multi-purpose activities or trip-chaining in a single day e.g. delivering children to school, going to work, visiting the gym, having a coffee and doing the shopping before returning home.

It requires new methods from artificial intelligence and data science which the project will help to develop. These methods are recognised by governments and business as crucial to future well-being and economic prosperity because data are now so widespread and their content is so revealing.

The outcomes from the project will include novel publications appearing in the scientific literature, but the research will also help businesses and government to plan more effectively, and it will train the next generation of students and research professionals in the applications and analysis of new and emerging forms of data.


CDRC was established in 2014 as a national Research Centre to bridge from the social sciences to new forms of data reflecting the attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles of the population. Research within CDRC has demonstrated the capacity to influence, impact, and facilitate change for four key types of beneficiary.

These are:

  • Commercial, retail and third sector organisations;
  • Local, national, and international governments and decision-makers;
  • The wider public;
  • Data users and researchers, both within academia and professional data workforces.

The types of impacts achieved across these beneficiary groups are both broad and diverse, and include attitudinal change, capacity-building, changes to behaviour and decision-making, environmental benefits and impacts to sustainability, economic impact, policy change, influence on health outcomes and wellbeing, and overall cultural change in the prevailing values, attitudes, and beliefs surrounding the significance of consumer data analysis.

Business and Third Sector

Work with retail organisations to understand consumers and their impacts on the economy, society and environment has been a core activity for CDRC since the start in 2014. Recent interest amongst retailers has accelerated notably, including deepening our relationship with Sainsbury’s through a new strategic partnership. The Institute of Grocery Distribution has become an important organisational partner; and even more valuable as a conduit to multiple manufacturers and retail partners. MoreLife, MyFood24 and Fuell have each been important PhD sponsors; with whom we are now looking to extend our relationship(s).

In the mobility sector, we have made significant strides with Cuebiq (Ross, S., Breckenridge, G., Zhuang, M. and Manley, E., 2021. Household visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientific Reports, 11(1), pp.1-11), Arup, CycleStreets and First Group. Relevant to environment and sustainability we have renewed data-sharing agreements with WhenFresh/ Zoopla and extended with MIAC and ReAD Group.

New activity with Yorkshire Water, Southwest Water and Thames Water is extending our portfolio.


Our work has influenced government departments and units through direct interactions with DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, the DfT, GO Science, the Ministry of Justice, and by the provision of evidence in various forms to parliamentary committees and calls for consultation (e.g. the House of Lords, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the Behavioural Insights Team, and the UK’s National Data Strategy).

At the regional level we have offered support in relation to both mobility (Transport for the North and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority) and environment (N8 Agrifood Policy Hub), while at the local level the nexus of activities combining environment, sustainability, education, health and welfare has strengthened relationships across both Leeds and Bradford, extending this influence across other regional cities and LEPs through a programme of Comprehensive Spatial Modelling for the North (CosmoNorth) and building outwards through the Local Data Spaces project.

Specific support is being provided to the city as it seeks to create an Office for Data Analytics spanning health, social and community services, universities and the business community.


Our work has connected to local communities in the city through Be Curious and the Leeds Digital Festival. We have used the LifeInfo survey to engage public opinion in partnership with medical professionals in Leeds Teaching Hospitals, and this research now appears in peer-reviewed academic literature (H Clarke, Clark S., Birkin M., Glaser A., Iles-Smith H, Morris M. (2021). Understanding barriers to linking novel lifestyle data for health research, results from the LifeInfo Survey: a topic modelling approach. JMIR Public Health, (23), pp. 5). A series of blog posts have increased awareness of key issues and opportunities for consumer data research on topics ranging from advertising, social policy, diet, health and environment, and the importance of data science in secondary education.


While this overlaps with our support for business, government and the third sector, strengthening the skills and expertise of collaborators in the workforce is an important objective in its own right, and one which we have progressed through their participation in training events, co-production of research innovation including joint authorship of publications, and a modest but direct contribution to increasing data science capacity in the workforce of the future through our Data Scientist Development Programme.

Our promotion of a positive action case (PAC) for underrepresented groups in data science is an especially notable achievement. Through these various activities our work has significant strategic policy influence, including a direct and beneficial influence on e.g. the National Food Strategy and British Food Nutrition Panel; the DfT Scientific Advisory Council; the Covid-19 response through the Royal Society and Emergent Alliance; emerging thinking on mobility data and international perspectives on data sharing (Trinity Challenge and I-DAIR); links to the UN’s Human Settlements (UN-Habitat)- and Environment (UNEP) Programmes and the International Association of Public Transport; as well as support for COP26.

Publications and outputs


Project website