Jane Elliot

Negotiating complex anonymisation requirements

Why read this account

For an example of how one study team approached the anonymisation process.

The challenge

The research team on the The National Child Development Study (NCDS) were keen for the data to be archived but found the biggest challenge to archiving was the anonymisation process.

About the research

The National Child Development Study (NCDS) is a continuing longitudinal study that follows the lives of a cohort living in Great Britain who were born in one particular week in 1958.

Conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), the aim of the study is to improve understanding of the factors affecting human development over the whole lifespan. It collects information on physical and educational development, economic circumstances, employment, family life, health behaviour, wellbeing, social participation and attitudes. Additional qualitative interviews explored the respondents’ whole life stories as well as detailing their lives over the week, prior to the interview so the researchers could get a sense of their professional and leisure activities.

The research data is located in the UK Data Service collection at: Social Participation and Identity, 2007-2010: Combining Quantitative Longitudinal Data with a Qualitative Investigation of a Sub-Sample of the 1958 National Child Development Study

About the data

Quantitative longitudinal data were combined with a qualitative investigation of a sub-sample of the NCDS cohort when they were aged 50, resulting in The Social Participation and Identity study. This was the first attempt to interview members of a national, longitudinal cohort study in depth, with the possibility of linking such biographical narratives to structured survey data collected throughout the life course.

Interviews were conducted with a sub-sample of 220 NCDS cohort members resident in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

The interviews were organised into six main sections focusing on:

  • neighbourhood and belonging
  • leisure activities and social participation
  • personal communities
  • life histories
  • identity
  • reflections on being part of the NCDS

The second edition of this data collection (released February 2012) includes interview transcripts, interviewer observation summaries, gender identity diagrams and life trajectory diagrams of 50 Welsh, 115 English and 55 Scottish participants.

Archiving challenges

The research team were very keen for the data to be archived and for other researchers to make further use of the rich data that they had collected. They felt that despite the ethical concerns that some researchers have with sharing data, in fact, it was unethical to take up respondents’ time and not fully exploit the resulting data.

They found the biggest challenge to archiving was the anonymisation process. The research team had always planned to anonymise the interviews they collected, but had not considered how time-consuming it would be to do this. They found it was not enough to simply change the names of the people they were interviewing but that they needed to also change the names of some places or identifying features about their family.

The UK Data Archive was able to advise and assist on this work.

At-a-glance: How the NCDS research team approached anonymisation?

  • The team admit they had underestimated how time-consuming the anonymisation process would be.
  • Names of respondents were changed, as were some places and other identifying features,
  • Advice was sought from the UK Data Service,

Find out more

In this short interview, one of the Principal Investigators, Jane Elliott, tells why and how she decided to archive, or make available, the qualitative interview from the NCDS, the National Child Development Survey data.