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Looking back: UK Data Service achievements, 2017 – 2024

We received our last five-year award in October 2017, which was then extended to take us through to March 2024. Here is a selection of highlights from the last seven years, covering some of our innovations in data management, the impact of new data acquisitions, our new communications initiatives and the development of our training and events programme.

Pioneering technology and safer data access

In March 2020 the UK first ‘locked down’ in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We made the Institute for Social and Economic Research’s Understanding Society data accessible from April of that year, working under lockdown conditions to bring researchers the first waves of COVID-19 survey data.

This was subsequently used by HM Treasury, Public Health England and SAGE among others making significant national decisions throughout the pandemic. Since then, over 75% of our collection continues to be accessible to remote users working from home.

The UK Data Service’s rapid response to the changing research conditions meant it was the first Trusted Research Environment (TRE) to enable safe access to Special Licence and controlled data during the pandemic. 2021 saw the UKDS SecureLab join the new UKRI-ESRC SafePod network – to enable researchers greater flexibility to safely access controlled data.

We were also the first research infrastructure to implement the latest DDI standard DDI-CDI (Cross-Domain-Integration) as part of our commitment to open science and participation in EOSC (European Open Science Cloud). In support of this, we have adopted a cloud-first approach for all infrastructure needs going forward, partnering with Jisc to integrate further with the research data and archival community, ensuring greater longevity of our data services.

Data impact – how we support research to improve people’s lives

Real-world impact of data hosted by the Service continues to influence research that underpins big decisions, including  government policies. 2021 and 2022 were census years across the UK.

The 2021 Census for England and Wales was the first to gather data on gender identity and sexual orientation and our Census Service Director Dr Oliver Duke-Williams explored issues for researchers and policy-makers around using these data.

More service users have accessed data to support their research into the impact of poverty across multiple areas – health, child wellbeing and equality. Research Impact and Engagement Manager James Lockwood recently blogged about how the datasets we host are utilised by research projects investigating living standards and wellbeing.

The Lancet countdown grew out of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change and has used various IEA datasets available via the Service to track the progress of international measures to combat climate change. In 2018 the first report and policy briefings to be published by the project prompted action from health leaders and government committees – find out more in our case study on the Lancet countdown.

Last year we supported the launch of the  Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) study. EVENS is the most extensive survey of ethnic minority groups in Britain and the data is exclusively available via the Service. The initial findings of the survey prompted widespread media coverage of racial equality in the UK and a book exploring the survey results was published last year.

The Health Case for Basic Income

Research on Basic Income often looks at the financial implications of schemes including how much the payments should be, how much a scheme would cost and how much benefit this would provide to the economy. The work outlined in this case study takes a different angle. The researchers look not just at the financial implications but focus instead on the potential health benefits to people who receive money through a basic income scheme.

The studies and trials conducted over the course of this project have shown that basic income can impact people’s health positively in many ways, including:

  • Addressing poverty: which increases people’s ability to satisfy their basic needs, for example helping them to afford better food and housing.
  • Reducing income inequality: also giving people the option to leave abusive, damaging environments. This would reduce stress and related illnesses.
  • Providing a predictable and secure future: increasing people’s perception of their lifespan and making it worthwhile for them to invest in healthy behaviours.

The accompanying blog provides some further insights.

Finding our voice, improving our communications and reach

Our Experts’ Expert podcast series launched in 2021 shines a light on some of the specialists and partners that deliver data-skills training and enable research using our data collections possible. With over 20,000 listens so far, these interviews play a key role in widening awareness of the UK Data Service.

Our growing profile and new website in 2021 has resulted in a continual rise in data access, while our Data Impact blog has given researchers an opportunity to demonstrate how the Service has supported and enabled their work.

The Data Impact Fellowship was launched in 2016 and continues to provide an annual showcase for researchers across the social sciences, with our fourth cohort joining in 2023.

The #CiteTheData campaign in 2018 boosted a surge in correct data citation and DOI usage – the campaign will re-run nationally later this year. The Campaign toolkit and training resources are available online for use by other institutions.

Broadening participation through specialist training

Attendees of our training events reached an all-time high in 2022, as our online events reached new, global audiences and our bank of training resources continues to grow.

We launched interactive training modules covering survey, longitudinal and aggregate data in 2018 via our Learning Hub data skills modules. Further resources have been added over the years, and we continue to develop more to meet user needs.

Our annual Dissertation Award recognises exceptional use of secondary data accessed via the Service – last year’s winner Aiste Timukaite used the Crime Survey for England and Wales to research the importance of trust in the police.

Staging our four annual User Conferences (Family Finance, Health Studies, Crime and Labour Force and Annual Population Surveys) during the lockdown years proved to be a challenge, but we adapted, moving from in-person events, to online. As we move back to in-person delivery, we’re delighted to be in a position to help develop a network between data professionals.

Last year’s Health Studies User Conference was a particular highlight, with speakers including Mari Toomse-Smith from the National Centre for Social Research, Doug Warren from Ipsos, Meena Kumari from the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Richard Silverwood from University College London. These speakers were featured in our special video about the conference.

Love Data Week: My kind of data

Love Data Week (12-16 February) sees data organisations from all over the world coming together to share insights and best practise. The theme this year is “My kind of data” and Service colleagues will be providing data skills training and drop-in sessions in our training and events across a variety of data types, ensuring attendees do indeed get the best out of their ‘kind of data’!

UK Data Service and CLOSER Love Data Week podcast

In a Love Data Week special edition of the Experts’ Expert Podcast series, the UK Data Service and CLOSER bring you a fascinating discussion on this year’s Love Data Week theme of ‘My kind of data.’ Professor Jennifer Symonds, Director of CLOSER, Robin Flaig, Co-Director of the UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration and Chief Operations Officer for Generation Scotland, and Dr Nigel de Noronha, Research Associate at the UK Data Service, join the panel to discuss their personal data journeys and much more. Please listen below to a teaser of the podcast, ahead of the full edition being released during Love Data Week.