Reviewing existing literature and initiatives: What is already known?

The first stage in any project should be focused on ensuring an understanding of prior work in the project area by undertaking some form of literature review. This is typically done to identify gaps in existing knowledge and understand what research and data exists in relation to a topic area or research question.

A similar approach can be undertaken to understand existing research, data and knowledge related to public views, attitudes, and acceptability of the use of data for various research and statistical projects.

Previous work has explored the use of data for health-related research, the use of personal information, and aspects related to data privacy and willingness to share data for the public good.

Examples of previous work can be found in the ‘find out more’ section of this guidance and include published academic research, current research programmes and wider public sector initiatives.

As with a traditional literature review, there are likely to be limitations in existing knowledge that may not apply exactly to aspects of your planned project.

However, a consideration can then be made of whether existing research and knowledge is sufficient to understand likely public views in relation to the broad context and details of your project, or whether further public engagement may be necessary to gather more specific information.

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Key points when considering existing literature and initiatives

Before you begin reviewing existing knowledge, literature, and initiatives, it may be useful to identify which groups or communities are most relevant to your planned work, including any key influencers or organisations within this.

The ‘public’ is a very broad term and breaking this down to consider the various sub-groups that may be impacted by the work can be a helpful first step in specifying your search criteria and understanding what information you need, as well as potential routes for later engagement. The creation of a public-focused stakeholder map may be helpful here.

Consider any specific elements of your project that may be particularly novel or exploratory within the research and statistical context. Think about:

  • The methods that you will be using
  • The type and coverage of data used
  • Any related data sharing
  • The focus and aims of your work

This may be useful for guiding your literature search, identifying relevant current initiatives, and helping you to identify the extent and type of evidence that you may need to consider public views.

Review existing work from published literature, as well as current initiatives and emerging work, related to public attitudes, views and acceptability in the use of data for similar research and statistics projects and consider how this applies to the context of your work and the specifics of your project.

  • Is it a broadly similar data source or type?
  • Does it focus on similar methods or similar data linking or sharing approaches?
  • What were the key findings?
  • Does this cover what you need?

When reviewing existing work, include a consideration of public views related to the use of particular methods, data types and data sources, willingness to share data, and aspects related to transparency and privacy for data subjects. The ‘find out more’ section of this guidance may be a useful place to start.

Documenting the process

Summarising existing work, and documenting this process, will enable you to evaluate the likely relevance of prior work to your project and support you in appropriately addressing the public views and engagement ethical principle, whilst avoiding unnecessary duplication of existing research.

  • Think about the depth, coverage, recency, and quality of existing work that is identified.
  • Consider whether this existing information is sufficient with regards to understanding public views and acceptability for your project – this may depend on the type of project that you are engaging in and its potential impact, the resource available, the timelines for completion, and the novelty of your approach.

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