Opportunities From the SPRITE+ Network

There are a number of networks and research groups that exist outside of our community that could bring value to our work. The aim of this article is to illustrate this with reference to a personal case study undertaken over the past nine months. The network I chose to participate in was the Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust Engagement NetworkPlus, SPRITE+ for short.

This article will show where these networks can add value to our work and also how industrial partners can access these groups to mutual benefit. In order to explain this it is important to understand how these networks are funded in the UK.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

The UK Government seeks to fund innovation through (what was until recently) the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In turn BEIS sponsors a public body known as UKRI, which then supports seven research councils that span a number of disciplines, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. UKRI should therefore be seen as the source of funding for the collaborations covered here.

For the purpose of this article we can consider UKRI as an umbrella body that funds some interesting initiatives. They support research, knowledge exchange and innovation for the universities in the UK but this also brings international opportunities for engagement. One interesting aspect from the perspective of industry engagement is that they fund the setting up of networks.

The main objective of networks is to create new interdisciplinary research communities and topics, by developing interaction between the research community and appropriate science, technology and industrial groups. Under the terms of this funding these networks have to be based in the UK but may include collaboration with those overseas.

So the potential gain for our community is that there is real opportunity here to access these networks irrespective of your geographic location.

The NetworkPlus concept

UKRI funds groups that bring together researchers and stakeholders that cross multiple disciplines in order to address specific research questions. In the case of SPRITE+ this includes criminologists, psychologists and statisticians through to IT security professionals. Additionally, they have further funding to deliver specific activities.

They fund feasibility studies that can involve researchers outside of the Network, bringing in more diverse expertise. One particular area of interest is that they can sponsor work to identify and disseminate key research challenges, including – for example – horizon-scanning studies. And finally they can deliver activities to connect users, industry and other stakeholders with the research base.

For our community this brings a number of opportunities. There is the potential here to interact with the individuals and universities involved in the network. The key to this is finding the relevant network.

The SPRITE+ NetworkPlus

Disassembling the acronym, the focus of SPRITE+ is Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust, Engaging and building a community around these topics. The ‘+’ and the significance of NetworkPlus is that the UKRI grant includes funds for community-building activities and a research fund that SPRITE+ can use flexibly to pump-prime innovative, collaborative projects. Again, I chose to put that to the test, joining SPRITE+ as an Expert Fellow.

The congruence of these topics with the ID, authentication and traceability communities seemed obvious to me and grew with my participation. In addition to UKRI the key participants in SPRITE+ are the universities of Manchester, Queen’s Belfast, Imperial College London, Southampton and Lancaster, but participation from the academic community is much wider than this.

The participating universities all bring different strengths to these topic areas. Under the aegis of SPRITE+ they get together to discuss areas warranting further research and then pitch these for funding. I went along to one of these events and had the opportunity to try this out, based on my participation at the Tax Stamp & Traceability Forum™ (TSTF) 2022.

Digital Product Passports

In preparation for TSTF 2022 I had been researching an initiative in Germany on ‘battery passports’ to facilitate recycling of automotive batteries, particularly those in electric vehicles (see Tax Stamp & Traceability News™, January 2023). Associated with this is a European Commission initiative known as Digital Product Passports which essentially confers identity onto some physical products (see Authentication & Brand News™, February 2023). My interest in this had grown to the security, privacy and trust implications of this.

During a SPRITE+ event there was the opportunity to discuss this with colleagues from the universities of Coventry, West of England and Edinburgh. We put together a bid to a SPRITE+ funding contest for a scoping project with the formal outcome due in March. We look forward to a successful result and the opportunity to show the work to our community as the project develops.

SPRITE+ phase 2

So far, SPRITE+ has been operating under an initial grant of £1.39 million, which runs from 2019 to 2023. In 2022 they were awarded £2.85 million of phase 2 funding which will take the network on to August 2027. Retaining their Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust topics, this increased funding will allow them to broaden and deepen their engagement within the community.

As a result I hope we will see and hear more of SPRITE+. In phase 2 SPRITE+ aims include further development of their international links and deepen engagement with users of their research output and participate in international conferences that are on topic.

In summary

I have found by experience that these Network groups are a valuable asset to our community, as a source of academic contacts, expertise and seed funding for collaborative projects.

Also from my experience SPRITE+ are open to participation and new ideas on the topics of Security, Privacy, Identity and Trust.

I will be happy to debate any of this at the forthcoming Optical & Digital Document Security conference, 17-19 April 2023 in Prague, Czech Republic.