Yesterday I jumped on the train to Leeds, not to catch the start of the Tour de France, but for something much more impactful – at least in terms of the future of healthcare.

Leeds Data Mill is an initiative that has been running for 4 months now, in which Leeds aim to become nationwide leaders in open data to the benefit of the city. When we heard their focus is currently on health, we thought we’d pay the north a visit.

Time for the lightning round!

I spoke during the lightning talks, in which you only have 10 minutes to deliver your story. Since we were talking about open data, I chose to discuss the vast amounts of data that everyday people create: body data. Anyone who wears an activity tracker, or uses their smartphone to track steps, sleep, food or many more other possibilities, is generating huge amounts of body data – often quite readily available in downloadable .csv files or through APIs.

Now, consider that the number of people using these devices is going to grow. Both Apple and Google are releasing health platforms, and as we all know, once Apple launch something, it tends to become ‘normal’ and go very mainstream. So we expect self-tracking to move from a minority user-base to the majority of everyday people. Imagine all this body data in one database. How powerful would that be for researchers, the NHS or even private companies that may be willing to pay for the data? With strict data privacy and clear licenses of ownership, it may well be possible to have the largest research sample in the world, via a crowdsourced network of self-trackers.

How can you get involved?

My talk ended with two ways that this is possible today. First, you can open up your body data right now under a Creative Commons Science License. Furthermore, you can easily share your data using the device or app’s own API through (a WikiLife charity) so your body data can be used by researchers for good (and it will of course be anonymous).

In a world where people track their activity 24/7, and find it absolutely normal to do so, the possibilities for researchers are endless. It won’t be long before researchers are treated like rockstars, just like entrepreneurs on Kickstarter are today.