Digital footprints for climate change


Dr Xingjie Wei and Dr Andrea Taylor

Dr Xingjie Wei and Dr Andrea Taylor

How much can a digital footprint reveal about a person’s life?

Dr Xingjie Wei (Leeds University Business School (LUBS)) and Dr Andrea Taylor (LUBS/School of Earth and Environment) are exploring how the data people share online can give us insight into a very specific and increasingly important issue – how the impact of climate change on peoples’ mental health is increasing existing social inequalities.

“Climate change affects everyone,” Dr Wei explains. “But people who are experiencing  inequality suffer more. We’re interested in considering both the climate change element and the inequality element, with the help of digital footprint data.”

By using data from digital sources like social media and internet discussion boards, the team aims to explore how different groups think about and experience the effects of climate change.

For example, when temperatures rise, people are more likely to feel stressed. But this will affect some groups more severely than others.

By collecting data shared by individuals online, the team hopes to offer new methods of exploring these differences.

Building a global network

Footprints in a rainforest

Dr Wei’s background is in using machine learning and data analytics models to get a deeper understanding of how people make decisions. She is working with Dr Taylor, an expert in climate information communication, to identify relevant areas to investigate and analyse.

The project is Dr Wei’s most ambitious to date, connecting researchers at the University of Leeds with a group from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea to share complementary expertise in areas including health inequality, risk communication, data modelling, machine learning and climate change.

Dr Wei says support from colleagues in LUBS’ Research Office, particularly Charlotte Stephenson, played a key part in getting the project off the ground.

“The Research Office really helped me develop the idea into a proposal. And once we got the grant, they helped with organising agreements between institutions and making things happen. It’s a really supportive environment here.”

Showcasing the learning

The project has also had support from the LUBS’s Impact and Engagement Team (part of the Research Office), where colleagues Kathryn Watson, Grace Carter and Karolina Jachowicz-Dudek have been helping the project team put together a conference to present the learning so far.

“We’re still in the inviting and planning stage,” says Dr Wei. “There will be people from industry, practitioners and academics – it will be a mixed group.”

“The Impact and Engagement Team has helped us identify what those stakeholders will need, and in what format, so we can invite the academics to present the work. And they have been so helpful with practical advice – things you can’t find out online, like choosing a date that will work well in the academic calendar.”

Dr Wei says that the experience of working on an interdisciplinary, global project like this has set her sights higher. “Knowing the project is set up and funded has pushed me forwards. Without this support I might only write papers, but this has pushed me to progress in my career development.”

About Xingjie

Dr Xingjie Wei is an Associate Professor in Business Analytics and Machine Learning in the Centre for Decision Research (CDR) at Leeds University Business School.

Xingjie’s research interests lie in the interaction between data science, and business and management to understand human behaviour through psychological experiments, big data analytics, and machine learning modelling.

Her research develops quantitative models to describe and predict the behavioural and psychological traits of humans from unstructured data, which can be applied to improve management practice in many fields.

She is interested in applying cross-disciplinary techniques to discover hidden patterns within data and generate insights to guide governments, public sector organisations, and businesses to transform the way they work to make their services more cost-effective and easier to use.

About Andrea

Dr Andrea Taylor is a behavioural decision researcher with over a decade of experience of teaching in higher education. She has a background in cognitive psychology and holds joint posts at Leeds University Business School and the School of Earth and Environment.

Her research interests are in behavioural decision making, risk communication, expert judgement, and weather and climate risk.

Andrea’s current research projects include examining public responses to severe weather warnings in the UK and developing weather forecasting science and services in West and East Africa.