The UK Statistics Authority is pleased to announce the launch of our new Research Accreditation Panel newsletter. This format will allow us to keep our stakeholders in the loop about key developments in the Digital Economy Act’s Research powers and the Research Accreditation Panel’s activities. 

Some background information 

As this is our first newsletter, some introductions are needed. The Digital Economy Act Research powers (DEA) allows access to data from public authorities for public good research. The UK Statistics Authority is the body responsible for accrediting researchers, research projects and trusted research environments that use these research powers to use and make available de-identified data for public good research. The way that the UK Statistics Authority does this has to adhere to the DEA’s Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria, which was approved by the UK Parliament in July 2018. This is all overseen by an independent panel, the Research Accreditation Panel (RAP), who ensures the UK Statistics Authority continues to operate as independent, consistent and transparent accreditors. The RAP is chaired by Professor Paul Boyle CBE, who is also currently Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University. 

Over recent months, the UK Statistics Authority team has been working on several new and exciting activities and outputs. Read on for an overview of the key highlights the team has been working on since the beginning of this year. 

Updates from Research Accreditation Panel meetings 

In these quarterly meetings, the RAP discusses key issues relating to the way in which researchers, research projects and trusted research environments are accredited under the DEA. The minutes of these meetings are available publicly on the UK Statistics Authority’s website, but an overview of key updates from recent meetings can be found below.  

The RAP has recently agreed to broaden its focus as an advisory committee to the UK Statistics Authority and National Statistician. Previously, the RAP’s primary focus has been the direct oversight of DEA research accreditation operations. This is to ensure that appropriate governance mechanisms are in place for the accreditation of projects, researchers and processors under the DEA.  

Now that these processes are developed and embedded, with the UK Statistics Authority accrediting research projects in an average of 4-5 days, the RAP has agreed that it can provide additional value to the UK Statistics Authority by providing more strategic advice on how wider improvements might be made to data access processes as a whole, while still providing oversight of research accreditation operations. This aims to better support and promote efficient and safe data access for public good research across the UK.  

Initially, the RAP is looking to develop its work in this area by firstly, improving its understanding of the end-to-end journey a researcher might take when applying for access to data using the DEA research powers. Secondly, it will continue to engage with key stakeholder groups that utilise the DEA Research powers to make data available for research or access data. This is to understand where further knowledge, understanding or improvements are required for the DEA Research powers to function more efficiently. 

The RAP has also recently approved a suite of changes to the data capability framework used by the UK Statistics Authority to accredit trusted research environments. This work by the UK Statistics Authority provides the RAP with more consistent and measurable assurance on how the use of the DEA is applied in a diverse set of trusted research environments in line with the Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria. A more detailed rundown of these changes is available on this blog. 

The RAP has also recently heard from DARE UK (Data and Analytics Research Environments UK) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on initiatives that these organisations are undertaking with the aim of improving some existing data access practices and processes. DARE UK presented on their recent report to design and deliver a coordinated national infrastructure for sensitive data research, which includes recommendations which are pertinent to the DEA and RAP. 

Meanwhile, the ONS presented on updates regarding the Integrated Data Service (IDS). The ONS is leading the delivery of the IDS, a platform that brings together ready-to-use data to enable faster and wider collaborative analysis, in collaboration with partners across government and is committed to DEA accreditation. 

New Application Paperwork  

A new research project accreditation application form featuring a revised methods section was published on our website this month. The revised form was developed with advice from colleagues in ONS Methodology and approved by the Research Accreditation Panel (RAP). It aims to provide better guidance to researchers and enable them to provide us with more targeted methodology information that we require to assess and accredit a project. 

The revised methods section moves away from asking researchers to write out methodology proposals in a single 1000-word free text box. Instead, researchers are asked for specific information regarding their research methodology, such as whether the research has the potential to realise the public benefit stated in the application. This change aims to better guide researchers completing accreditation applications to provide the UK Statistics Authority with the specific information required to provide an accreditation decision, which should also make for a more straightforward application process for researchers. In addition to this, we have also updated our guidance and best practice example to reflect this change.    

Research Accreditation Services  

What is research accreditation? 

For research projects to access data under the DEA, the research project must first be accredited by the UK Statistics Authority. This is to ensure that research adheres to the criteria stipulated in the DEA Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria, is ethical and does not pose privacy risks. 

To get their research accredited, researchers must first submit an application form to a DEA-accredited trusted research environment. Guidance on how to complete the application form is available online. The trusted research environment then sends the completed application to the UK Statistics Authority for an accreditation decision. All research projects accredited and allowed to proceed under the DEA Research powers can be found on our public registers. 

Research Accreditation metrics 

So far this year, the UK Statistics Authority has received and accredited 190 research project accreditation applications from our network of DEA-accredited processors, surpassing the total for last year by 15%. This rise in research projects coming through has not increased the average time it takes for the UK Statistics Authority to accredit a project once we receive the application from an accredited processor, with an average of 4-5 working days. 

New datasets added 

This section lists down new datasets that have recently been made newly available through the DEA Research strand in a number of DEA-accredited trusted research environments. If you are interested in learning more about these data or applying for access to them for public good research, please do approach the accredited TRE listed for further information.  

Available through ONS SRS 

  • COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey – England (ONS) 
  • COVID-19 Infection Survey linked to NHS Test and Trace – England (ONS) 
  • Virus Watch – England and Wales (University College London, ONS) 
  • Public Attitudes Tracker (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 

Available through SAIL 

  • Data First – Probation Data – England and Wales (Ministry of Justice) 
  • Data First – Crown Court Defendant Data – England and Wales (Ministry of Justice) 
  • Data First – Magistrates’ Court Defendant Data – England and Wales (Ministry of Justice) 
  • Data First – Prisoner Custodial Journey Data – England and Wales (Ministry of Justice) 
  • Data First – Family Court Data – England and Wales (Ministry of Justice) 

Available through UKDS 

  • Covid-19 Vaccine Opinions Survey, September 2021– England (Department of Health and Social Care, Cabinet Office, NHS England) 
  • Short-Term Employment Surveys, 2020-2022 – Great Britain (ONS) 
  • UK Gross Value Added for Lower Layer Super Output Areas, 1998-2019 – UK (ONS) 
  • Over 50s Lifestyle Study, February 2022 – Great Britain (ONS)   
  • Homelessness Case Level Information Collection, 2019-2020 – England (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 

Engagement Activities 

The UK Statistics Authority has also been busy engaging with the wider research community. In September, we presented at the International Population Data Linkage Network (IDPLN) Conference, raising the visibility of the DEA and the work that the UK Statistics Authority does. The Chair of the RAP, Professor Paul Boyle had also given a keynote speech entitled “Public data for public good: democratic accountability and the UK’s data access ecosystem” at the ONS’s Research Capability Awards on 11th October 2022. In this speech, Paul talked about the importance of sharing public data for public good research in ensuring democratic accountability. The talk sets out progress that has been made in achieving this, as well as areas that need further exploration and prioritisation to realise democratic accountability.  

Looking forward 

The team has a busy schedule ahead, including preparing for the final RAP meeting of 2022 and discussing key issues about data access for public good research. We are also kickstarting our data access journey work, where we will be collecting information relating to the data access journey to present to RAP. We hope to update you on more exciting news to come!