About the process
Who are the researchers and where do they come from?
We expect researchers to be from academia, charities, third sector, government or an independent research organisation recognised by our governing board. We will not currently consider proposals from researchers from commercial organisations. Every researcher will need to be accredited and every research project will be assessed by the Approvals Panel, made up of independent experts.
How did the Network handle the data?
Once a researcher and their research project had been approved, we worked with data custodians to arrange secure transfer of the requested data. Once the data collections had been de-identified and linked, the source files were securely destroyed and the resulting linked data was made available in one of the secure rooms in a secure environment. The secure rooms had strict rules that did not permit researchers to take anything in or out of the room with them (including mobile phones, memory sticks or even pen and paper).
All information that researchers wanted to take out of the setting (such as analysis papers, maps etc.) could only be released if the outputs met strict statistical disclosure control requirements.
Can I see my data?
No. The Network did not have access to identifiable data, so we could not know what data was yours.
Why can’t members of the public see the data?
There were strict requirements about who could have access to the data. Researchers meeting our requirements had the skills, experience and training necessary to make sense of the data and analyse it for the benefit of the public.
We wanted the public to understand what our researchers were doing and to benefit from it. Before they could access any data, every researcher had to show that their work would have a clear potential public benefit. When they finished their project, they had to provide a summary of their work in plain English, so we could tell people about it in non-technical language.
There were lay members on the Approvals Panel which assessed the proposed research projects. Lay members had been drawn from the general public to represent the public’s point of view.
Can I see the results of research?
Yes. One of the conditions for using the Network was that every researcher had to provide a plain English summary of their work when their project was complete. Also, the full results needed to be published in an appropriate place, such as peer-reviewed journals or on government websites that were available publicly. We published regular news stories on our website and issued press releases about the work which has been carried out, because we wanted the public to know about and understand what we do.
Was the service provided for commercial use?
No, the data could not be used for commercial purposes. Each project went through an assessment process by the Approvals Panel.
The panel checked each project for feasibility, viability, lawfulness and ethics, and made sure:
- the project was non-commercial
- there was a demonstrable value in using administrative data to answer the research question
- there was a clear potential public benefit
Was the Network’s service free for all users?
Yes, the research facilities and user support were funded by the ESRC for the benefit of the UK population. There was no cost to researchers at the point of use. The Data Controller could, however, choose to implement a cost before allowing data to be extracted.
Will international researchers be able to access the data?
International researchers needed to be affiliated with, employed by, or studying at a UK university, government department or research organisation.