what is iDEA lab?

IDEA lab is a virtual laboratory that will facilitate prototyping of novel applications of state-of-art informatic technologies. IDEA lab will enable and support multidisciplinary "proof-of-principle prototyping" (POPP) projects that develop and use informatic tools and techniques to:

  • collect and manage data,
  • discover and visualise structures and relationships;
  • model, simulate and analyse processes,
  • facilitate collaboration and create communities.

POPP projects will generate new collaborations across a range of interdisciplinary areas, as a key stimulus to an entrepreneurial e-research culture.

  • IDEA lab is an open community of developers and innovators from within and outwith the university, with wide-ranging interests, skills and know-how.
  • It provides a expert pool from which we can rapidly bring together agile teams for POPP projects making novel use of informatic applications and technologies.
  • It supports matchmaking, provides advice, and maintains a repositories of code, data, and expertise – open source, open data, open innovation.
  • It will help researchers to refine proposals, to identify appropriate software, data, and expertise, and to manage POPP projects that will open up new opportunities.
  • IDEA lab will administer POPP funds for specific groups: in particular, it will stimulate proposals, allocate funding, support and monitor POPP projects.

CSE POPP fund approved

Funding of £300k, to be spent in this academic year, has been earmarked by the College of Science and Engineering for POPP projects that will explore and assess new opportunities and pave the way for future funded research. This CSE POPP Fund is open to researchers from any School in the College.

Spending from the CSE POPP fund will be tracked by school. Proposals must specify the expenditure requested and its proposed allocation to schools, which must be approved by the head(s) of the relevant school(s) in the College of Science and Engineering.

Can others play too?

The lab is happy to look at and try to support any projects that make proof of principle prototypes for novel applications of informatics, within or outwith the university.

The CSE POPP fund is targetted at projects that will benefit our research - by enabling further research or tech transfer. Some Head of School has to be convinced that the project will benefit his school's research and agree to fund it from her/his school's account. The actual work could be contracted outside the University.

Everyone can play.

We intend to build a diverse community including developers, researchers and entrepreneurs. Diversity brings strength and innovation. We're interested in applications to research in the arts and humanities, as well as the sciences, and we're open to projects where the anticipated benefit is primarily cultural, social or commercial (but we still want novelty, we're not just a development agency). However, unless there is support from a School in the College of Science and Engineering, as above, the CSE POPP fund can't help: the funding has to come from elsewhere.


tools for thought

To support the development, execution and exploitation of POPP proposals, we envision a social web tool that will enable new forms of interdisciplinary research collaboration.

  • First, we want to support the generation of new ideas – cool new ways of collecting and using information in research, new ways of modelling and simulating processes, new ways of collaborating.
  • Second, we want to support the formulation of prototyping projects that would provide proof-of-principle for these ideas.
  • Practically, we need to help each other to identify data, methods, tools, people and funding to get the job done.
  • Finally we need tools to make the project and its results visible: to allow others to share in and contribute to the lessons learned.

We plan build these tools incrementally, since we will only begin to find out what we want as we start to use them in earnest. Here are some initial ideas of features we might need:

  • Perhaps, we want users to be able to fill in templates for projects, incrementally over time, and we want to be able to view, aggregate and summarise information about projects in different ways.
  • Perhaps, we want a register of expertise, a register of problems, and also a funding register. We certainly want tools that will help bring the right expertise and resources together to solve problems.
  • We want to be open, but we need enough security to protect us from spam, and probably some projects will want to keep some things private.

To begin, we have to choose a platform (Plone, Drupal, Wordpress, ...) for our initial development. We hope we can make a choice that will allow rapid prototyping, will be efficient in use, and that will be flexible enough to accommodate our future needs.

We invite your comments and suggestions. What features should we support? What platforms might we consider, and why?

POPP project proposals: a new model

IDEA Lab is developing a new model for project development and proposal, based on open community appraisal and discussion. This will be driven through a web portal currently under design and construction. We expect to launch an initial site within the next few weeks. For updates, see this blog.

In the meantime, we are eager to develop a small number of proposals as exemplars, to guide the design of the IDEA lab portal. If you have an idea that you think might be turned into a proposal -- even if it's just preliminary at this stage -- read on!

We would welcome your comments, as a prospective proposer, and any suggestions you may have on our current draft of the call for proposals.

If you would like to develop a proposal with us, as an exemplar, please send a brief description of your current ideas to John Lee. These need not constitute a complete proposal, as our goal is that IDEA lab will help to refine even "half-baked" ideas. For example, we may be able help identify developers and innovators with appropriate skills, or experts who can advise on tools and algorithms.

We would therefore welcome even an incomplete sketch, identifying any unresolved issues, so that we can discuss with you how IDEA lab might help to take your proposal forward.

We are aware that we will need to accommodate a variety of concerns, depending on the nature, scope and intended outcomes of the proposed project. In particular, some aspects of any proposal may be confidential. Although our intention is to develop an open community process for proposal development, proposals received at this stage will be treated in confidence.

No information from your proposal will be published without your further authorisation. However, it would be helpful if you could highlight any confidential material, to help us formulate appropriate policies in this area.


presentation to TechMeetup

Michael Fourman gave a presentation (pdf slides, vimeo video) on idea lab to 9th September's TechMeetup. The warm reception encourages our plan to build a continuing relationship with the TechMeetup community, and other initiatives related to Informatics Ventures. At the same time, we will be developing a series of meetup events as part of building an idea lab community, which we are confident will substantially intersect.



We are creating an open community of developers and innovators from within and outwith the university, with a wide range of interests, skills, expertise and know-how, to provide a pool of expertise, from which we can rapidly bring together small teams for short projects.

The IDEA lab will co-ordinate this pool of expertise to bring together small teams for short (3-12 person months) development and experimentation projects. Projects should be designed to evaluate novel research applications of informatics, and to underpin future bids for follow-on funding from more-traditional sources.

A competitive "proof-of-principle prototyping” (POPP) fund supports this rapid prototyping of development and experimentation projects, as a key stimulus to an entrepreneurial e-research culture. A “dragon’s den” will allocate resources to fund the marginal costs of interdisciplinary POPP projects.