Helping researchers explore quality data for over 50 years
Pioneers in data curation and managing long-term access to high quality data, our expertise continues to transform social science research, teaching and learning.
By improving the ability to extract knowledge and insights from complex collections of digital data, researchers help to accelerate the pace of discovery and inform evidence-based policy development to strengthen society.
As the UK’s only nationally funded research infrastructure for curating and providing access to social science data, our practices, especially around data curation and secure access to data, have been influential across the world.
Our outstanding data management training, best practice, trusted policies and protocols have been used by national data archives, international research organisations and researchers since we were established in our original form in 1967 at the University of Essex.
Our agile response to COVID-19 has enabled rapid research into the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, as we enabled access to the first datasets from Understanding Society in July 2020 and hosted an online COVID-19 data dive in October with researchers and policy makers across the UK and beyond.
Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Service integrates and builds on investments the Economic and Social Research Council has made in UK research infrastructure for decades, including the UK Data Archive, Economic and Social Data Service, the Secure Data Service, Census Programme and Survey Question Bank. Now, on those foundations, we continue to house the largest collection of economic, social and population data in the UK.
Our trusted reputation and professionalism has built lasting relationships with national and international stakeholders to enhance collaborations and strategic partnerships, many developed over decades.
Our most recent strategic partnership between the Universities of Essex, Manchester, Southampton, UCL, Edinburgh and Jisc since 2012 provides a comprehensive international service to meet the current and future digital needs of researchers, data users and data owners from all sectors. With this combined expertise, we frequently advise at a national and international level on data governance, ethics and confidentiality. We advised the Cabinet office on its development of the draft data ethics framework, which influenced the implementation of the Digital Economy Act 2017 and we are often called upon to input into government White Papers around the use of data for research.
Our well-established data skills training provides the necessary skills and knowledge to inform research for those new to data use, with on-demand webinars, events and video tutorials around the key data types and themes, alongside detailed guidance and support to get the most out of the UK Data Service. Whilst our teaching resources provide comprehensive guidance and materials to those teaching with data.
Our ongoing service improvement programme since 2017 continues to review and address digital user requirements through technological enhancements alongside service and website development. We have made our learning and data resources more accessible and continue to enhance our services across the organisation.
Our comprehensive learning resources, training events and on-demand webinars relate to several innovative aspects of data-intensive social science research. Whether you are a new undergraduate or teacher; veteran data analyst, career researcher or data manager; there is likely to be some training or best practice guidance you will find useful.
From understanding more about how to use large national surveys, Census or qualitative data, through to the many innovations, including those in modelling, simulation, big data, web-scraping, social media and more, we continue to enable researchers to access, manage and explore data.
Information security is at the heart of our organisation and flows through everything we do. Our lead partner, the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex, was the first university to be awarded ISO27001 certification, an international standard of information security. Working closely with HMRC DataLab and the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Services, we developed safe research protocols including the Five Safes Framework to enable secure research access to data while protecting confidentiality.
Accredited in 2020 by the UK Statistic Authority under the Digital Economy Act 2017, we continue to provide a more streamlined pathway for researchers to securely access controlled data they need for research.
UK Data Service partners have a long history of contributing to best practice in trustworthy repositories. Also in 2020, we helped to develop CoreTrustSeal, which sets out international requirements for trusted data repositories. This demonstrates our expertise to perform all of the relevant activities relating to providing long-term access to data of value to social science researchers.
We also advised on the creation of the SafePod Network (SPN) that enables wider geographical research access to sensitive data.
As part of our commitment to making sure research is replicable, our work with DataCite and the British Library helps researchers and data depositors cite data correctly, thereby helping demonstrate real value and impact to the data collections we hold. We ensure data follows the FAIR principles of being Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable, thereby enhancing the quality and replicability of the data. Our guidance to improve data citation across social science, along with our easy-to-use citation tool helps researchers cite data as they would other sources.
Social science research benefits from accountability and transparency, which can usefully be underpinned by high quality and trustworthy data. Rigorous data curation practices are still sometimes viewed as a dark art, and easy-to-use tools to correct and clean numeric data are not widely used, despite awareness of the desire to make data FAIR. Our innovative, open source QAMyData tool provides a health check for numeric data and helps repository staff check, clean and document data.
We have decades of experience in all aspects of data curation, digital preservation, data access, user support and capacity building through lead partner, the UK Data Archive. As strong advocates of using data for research, we have always published our policies, procedures and protocols to help other national and international organisations, researchers and data providers manage research data more effectively.
We promote and maintain metadata standards for describing collections and data in the social sciences. Our approach to data preparation and curation, and the standards we use, mean that data can be accessed now and in the future.
Through the UK Data Archive we continue to be at the forefront of developing international standards for data processing; for quantitative, and qualitative data processing.
The UK Data Service impact team is expert at understanding, supporting the development of, evidencing and promoting the impact of the use of data in the collection in research, teaching and policymaking and the impact of the Service as an ESRC-funded data infrastructure.
Our approach consists of:
- Demonstrating data impact leadership
- Expanding methodologies of data impact
- Capitalising on the role of the Service as a critical part of the UK’s research infrastructure, internationally; and
- Contributing to processes of developing societal benefit through supporting the re-use of Service data, where (ideally) cited data can be tracked through the specific beneficial outcome and on to an evidenced effect, corroborated by the end user.
Our focus is on the demonstrable contribution the Service and its data and resources make to the economy, society, culture, public policy and services, health, the environment and quality of life.
We draw together evidence about the reach and significance of the impact of the use of the data and resources, of the Service as a whole. We make use of data-driven approaches such as citation trawls and Scoop.it, which support our analysis of reach and significance over time. We work with researchers with a range of experience and in different fields to showcase the impact of their data-enhanced research through developing case studies. We encourage discussion and debate of concepts, challenges and issues in the realms of data impact and data policy theory through the Data Impact blog, which showcases the impact of the Service and the use of data in the collection in the development of impact. It also enables a space for diverse content with a community informed editorial approach. It is a resource for all stakeholders to engage in debate, share best practice and keep up to date with the latest data-driven research, thinking and policy-making. The ethos of the blog is to be representative of the breadth of the social and economic science community; accessible and inclusive.
Discussion and debate, as well as bringing together diverse voices, has been the focus of our four #Dataimpact events which support the expansion of ideas around data impact and have generated significant interest and engagement.
We support the understanding and development of data impact with Early Career Researchers through our Data Impact Fellows scheme. Fellows from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, including from both the academic and charity sectors have taken advantage of the opportunities of the award to develop their thought and practice and share their findings with us.