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How can we measure children’s wellbeing using data? UK Data Service offers answers at the RSS 2023 International Conference

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) 2023 International Conference takes place in Harrogate from 4-7 September. With over 500 attendees coming from around 30 countries, the Conference offers an ideal space for data scientists and statisticians from all over the world to exchange knowledge, explore new research developments and share best practice. The list of prestigious keynote speakers includes Sir Ian Diamond (principle advisor to the UK Statistics Authority and the UK’s National Statistician) and regular Channel 4 news contributor Christina Pagel.

UK Data Service Research Associate Alle Bloom will be on the panel discussing “Measuring Child Well Being before and after Covid: Data, measurement issues and outcomes”. Alongside her will feature two UK Data Service alumni, Ana Morales and Patricio Troncoso.

We asked Alle to answer a few questions about her upcoming visit to the RSS Conference.

Q. You will be explaining how data from the UK Data Service can be used to measure child wellbeing. Can you give us a sneak preview of what you’ll be discussing, and some of the datasets we host that are most useful?

One of the most recent datasets that I’ll be looking at is the Mental Health of Children and Young People survey. This survey started in 2017 and there have been four follow-up surveys in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. This means that it captures changes in children’s wellbeing through the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple national lockdowns, and beyond. I’ll also be highlighting some interesting harmonised cohort study measures that allow a different approach to exploring childhood impact on adulthood wellbeing. That’s just a couple of examples –  if you want to hear more you’ll have to attend the talk at 14.00pm on Tuesday 5 September!

Q. What do you think are the most important recent developments in the area of health-related data?

A very exciting area is linked data, and in particular for the UK Data Service the linking of survey data with administrative health data. Due to a new agreement between NHS Digital and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) our users can now access health administrative records from Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) collected by NHS Digital linked to four key CLS longitudinal studies through the UKDS SecureLab. This allows researchers to explore how different factors across an entire life course affect individuals’ health outcomes and healthcare utilisation.

Other interesting developments include the increased use of biological data alongside social science data, such as Understanding Society’s work on biomarkers, genetics and epigenetics, where additional information on genetics, disease propensity and age outcomes are collected alongside survey data.

Finally, we also held the Health Studies User Conference a few months ago. This event, held in collaboration with University College London and the National Centre for Social Research, highlighted some of the key updates in health surveys. Developments include new ethnicity or youth boost samples for key surveys (such as the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey and Scottish Health Survey), discussions around the feasibility of collecting measurements from wearable devices (Active Lives Survey) and overall changing methodologies in light of COVID-19.

Q. The RSS International Conference is an ideal forum for knowledge exchange. Which other panel sessions and lectures are you looking forward to attending?

This will be my first time attending the RSS, so I’m very excited to be surrounded by statisticians and data experts for a whole week! As someone who’s at an early stage of their career,  I’m looking forward to gaining knowledge from others in the field – there’s a session called ‘How to do it all: advice from female statisticians’ that I’ll definitely be attending, as well as one on the  ‘Interactive Teaching of Statistics’ which I’m hoping may provide some useful ideas for creating teaching resources.

Q. You are also going to be addressing the Early Career Researchers workshop on 4 September at the Conference. Can you tell us about how you established your career within data services?

I studied Politics and Sociology for my undergraduate degree, during which I took a social statistics module on ‘measuring inequality’ – and it was this module that first sparked my interest in social statistics. I’d always hated maths in school, but seeing the numbers applied in real-world contexts, relevant to the sociological concepts I was interested in, changed everything. After a few tutorial sessions where we scraped data from Twitter, conducted sentiment analysis and explored the surveys behind key media statistics, I was hooked.

My lecturer noticed my interest and prompted me to apply for a Q-Step internship. These internships were designed to address the shortage of quantitatively skilled social science graduates by placing them in fully paid internships, working on real-world social data analysis. I spent 6 weeks working with Respect Phoneline in London – a helpline for perpetrators of domestic violence.There I used caller data to help the team manage their resources and identify patterns. By the end of the summer I was thoroughly convinced I wanted a career in data so I applied to study for an MSc in Social Research Methods and Statistics.

The course was based in the Department of Social Statistics, the Cathie Marsh Institute, University of Manchester. Thanks to a Q-Step bursary and course-specific scholarship, I was able to undertake the course and was trained in many aspects of quantitative methods and data analysis, all studied through the lens of social science.

I graduated in 2019 and spent a few months working as a research assistant before applying for my role at the UK Data Service. I’d used the Service throughout my studies and so was already familiar with much of the data the archive holds.  My internship gave me a good idea of how our users utilise data, while my degrees gave me a good grounding in statistical methods and software that helps when I’m creating training resources and materials.

However, I’m always trying to learn more about the latest methods – so I’m looking forward to hearing about them at the Conference!

“Measuring Child Well Being before and after Covid: Data, measurement issues and outcomes” is at 14.00pm Tuesday, 5 September 2023, Queens Suite 9.
Follow our Conference news on social media #RSS2023Conf.
View the full programme of the RSS International Conference.