Scotland’s global role showcased at UK’s first two-week festival of data innovation

Facebook-Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wylie and Data Summit host Maggie Philbin

DataFest19, the UK’s first two-week festival of data innovation, focused on the economic and social benefits of data-driven innovation. The festival saw in excess of 4,000 participants, with 62 events taking place across eight towns and cities in Scotland between 11 and 22 March.

The theme for DataFest19 was collaboration and celebrated the groups, collectives, communities and teams who together have envisioned a path for the future of data and are taking steps to implement it.

Data Summit, the two-day international conference held in Edinburgh, attracted more than 500 attendees who heard from speakers including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, Chief Decision Scientist at Google, Cassie Kozyrkov, and Dr Sue Black, Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University.

Data Talent saw over 350 aspiring data science and engineering students from across Scotland rub shoulders with employers from some of the country’s leading organisations in Glasgow. It is the country’s largest data talent showcase and was hosted by Maggie Philbin. The event focused on developing the skills that Scotland’s data talent need to help achieve Scotland’s data-driven prosperity.

What a superb event. I can’t recall when I last – or ever – heard such a consistent chain of excellent, thought provoking talks in one conference

Jarmo Eskelinen, Director of the Data Driven Innovation Programme at Edinburgh University

DataFest19 also reached school children with the aim of encouraging them to consider STEM careers. 492 students from 24 schools were involved in DataFest19, participating in the Women in Data Science event and the StatWars fringe event. Before the events, over 200 applicants in 65 teams from 23 local authorities across Scotland competed in a Women in Data Science cyber challenge, and over 700 pupils from all across Scotland took part in the StatWars challenge.

Gillian Docherty, chief executive of The Data Lab, said: “This has been our most ambitious and most successful DataFest to date. The growth of the event, which now runs over two weeks with more events and participants each year, is indicative of the increasing interest, enthusiasm and collaboration around data science in Scotland.

“This year’s theme was around doing data together and this was very much evident through the opportunities provided to connect industry with academia and talent. We wish to thank all those that participated and attended, who have helped elevate Scotland’s leading role in data science and artificial intelligence on the international stage.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who addressed Data Summit said:“Data-driven innovation has the potential to deliver great benefits to Scottish businesses and our economy more widely. Scotland has a highly skilled workforce with great strengths in areas such as data and digital, and investors are increasingly seeing us as an attractive location for growing their business.

“I’m very pleased that DataFest is bringing these opportunities to people across the country and bringing an international audience to Edinburgh for another successful Data Summit.”

The festival was organised by The Data Lab in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government. It was supported by sponsorships from a range of industry bodies, including DataFest19 headline sponsor, SAS; Data Talent Platinum sponsor, Royal Bank of Scotland and gold sponsor for Data Summit and Data Talent, Sainsbury’s Bank.

Maggie Philbin OBE, who hosted Data Summit and Data Talent said: “What I love about DataFest is that it’s utterly authentic – driven by people who want data and AI to be put to the best possible use, attended by those who want to connect with others on this mission. It is also shedloads of fun.”

Jarmo Eskelinen, Director of the Data Driven Innovation Programme at Edinburgh University, attended Data Summit and added: “What a superb event. I can’t recall when I last – or ever – heard such a consistent chain of excellent, thought provoking talks in one conference. Great programme planning. Eagerly waiting for next year’s event.”

Data Tech was also introduced this year as a response to requests for a technical event featuring industry, public sector and academic work. The event was a great success, with over 200 data practitioners from different sectors attending, and listening to a wide range of keynotes, lighting talks and poster presentations.

Women in Data Science, which is part of the world-wide Women in Data Science initiative by Stanford University, saw Dr Hannah Fry address over 80 Scottish schoolgirls to inspire an interest in STEM. The girls also participated in the final of the Cyber Treasure Hunt organised by the Turing’s Testers, a group of sixth-year students at St Kentigern’s Academy.