Providing critical research resources to enable pandemic recovery in Britain

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that effective policy needs to be data-driven. Economic and Social research has rarely been so crucial. As the country starts to rebuild, evidence-based research must drive policy development more than ever – peoples’ lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Staff moved swiftly to home-working when the country locked down in March 2020. By May last year, the Institute for Social and Economic Research’s (ISER) Understanding Society: COVID-19 Study became the first major data collection made available through the UK Data Service to assist with rapid research. Whilst lead partner of the Service, the UK Data Archive has continued to release data and train researchers remotely to become accredited researchers throughout the entire pandemic.

Researchers attending UK Data Service training events have nearly tripled to over 7,500 in the past year; with the new Computational Social Science programme having the highest demand. In October 2020 the Service hosted their first virtual COVID-19 data-dive which started to explore the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. In collaboration with Understanding Society, Welfare at a (Social) Distance and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, this two-day workshop provided an early opportunity for researchers, policy and charity experts to draw out critical questions about the impacts of the pandemic.

Using data collected from national surveys, some of the research topics included the impacts of COVID-19 on loneliness, youth transition: changes in work pattern and perceived personal well-being; changes in antenatal services and mental health impacts; inequality and experiences of people on low income; and business turnover and impacts.

One participant, Gemma Schwendel, Senior Analyst at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “This is what happens when researchers get together to do a #UKDSCovidDataDive. Exciting to see all those ideas spring to life. It’s more vital than ever that data is used to tackle the economic & social challenges #Covid19UK is presenting.”

It is within this shifting data landscape that the UK Data Service launches its new website. Pioneers in data-skills training, data curation and preservation, they continue to provide long term access to the UK’s largest digital repository for quantitative and qualitative social science and humanities research data.

Following an extensive redesign, the website showcases the wealth of expertise and guidance developed since this critical research infrastructure first began here in its original form in 1967. User feedback and accessibility requirements have driven the build and the clear signposting, clean design and streamlined access to core services is welcomed by researchers.

Gemma Hakins, Director of Communications and Engagement at the UK Data Servicesaid: “The wealth of information throughout our website is much of what makes the UK Data Service such a useful research and data management resource but having developed over one thousand pages of best practice, guidance and training, everything was increasingly difficult to find.

“An undertaking of this magnitude would normally be challenging. During a global pandemic with all staff home-based simultaneously juggling caring responsibilities has meant it’s been even more demanding. I want to thank all our service users for their patience and our small, in-house team who have worked tirelessly across the Service with digital agency, Magnetic North, to deliver phase one of the redesign.”

Phase two will begin later this year to improve the data catalogue and account areas which will enable researchers access to an even better end-to-end data service.

The UK Data Service welcome any feedback on their new website and are always looking for service users to participate in user testing to inform future service enhancements.  If you are interested please get in touch with comms@ukdataservice.ac.uk.

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