AD|ARC: ADR Scotland working in partnership to deliver a UK-wide data linking project

A little bit about ADR Scotland

At ADR Scotland, we are four years into our journey to evolve and update how data linkage research is done in Scotland.  ADR Scotland partners, Scottish Government and the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR), are working in tandem to deliver an ambitious programme of policy relevant research. This is enabled by the design of a new data linkage method and an upgraded data linkage infrastructure in Scotland’s National Safe Haven, our national trusted research environment.

For the first time, the National Safe Haven will hold a library of research ready datasets. These datasets will include data from education, justice, the natural environment and local communities. These curated datasets will allow quicker access to data, enabling new and innovative linkage projects. Of course, this change to the infrastructure also makes it possible to hold linked datasets. So when ADR Wales approached us about the possibility of running the  (AD|ARC) project in Scotland (an ADR Wales-led initiative), it was with some excitement that I decided to get involved in supporting my Scottish Government Agricultural colleagues!

AD|ARC project

The AD|ARC project aims to better understand the demographic, health, education, and economic characteristics of farm households associated with different types and sizes of farm businesses. This will provide the insight needed for decision makers to improve future policies and enhance the wellbeing of farmers and their families.

There have been a number of bumps, twists and turns on our journey so far. Fulfilling Data Protection Information Governance requirements, designing a new linkage methodology and negotiating access to datasets have all presented significant challenges, compounded by the outbreak of Covid-19. However, by working with partners across Scotland we have developed a safe and secure research environment that data owners can trust to host AD|ARC.

Data linkage in Scotland and across the UK

The Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 saw experts from across the ADR Scotland partnership provide support to Scottish and the UK Governments’ responses. ADR Scotland designed, built and populated a Covid-19 Data Holding, enabling our researchers to provide evidence to support the response and recovery efforts.

These experiences and new contacts proved useful when ADR Wales contacted us with the AD|ARC proposal and mentioned that they were working with colleagues in the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Sciences and Analytical Services (RESAS) division. After discussions with colleagues, it was clear that I could provide support with data protection advice and help guide the project team through the new linkage model. It has been a great experience working with the RESAS team and the wider ADR Wales project team.

Moving forward, there is going to be a big focus on creating linked datasets in the next ADR UK investment programme in Scotland. The AD|ARC project will create a long-term research dataset for researchers to use. The work we will be undertaking over the next few months will help me understand how ADR Scotland can safely and securely hold this type of dataset for reuse. This will further support the development of the AD|ARC research network.

What is next for AD|ARC in ADR Scotland?

Over the summer, I was able to take part in the AD|ARC Scotland Stakeholder Reference Group. This group brought together organisations from across Scotland that work with farmers and rural communities. It was great to see the enthusiasm for the creation of the dataset and to hear suggestions for how it could be used. It opened up the conversation for researchers to talk about how they might be able to use the database in their own research. The potential to link additional variables to the database is perhaps the most interesting and exciting result the project will support. I am already thinking about how we might be able to use business data with the addition of geospatial data to support future research.

We need to work quickly to carry out research that will allow administrations across the UK to understand the impacts that climate change and changes to agricultural policy will have on our farming and rural communities. This was highlighted by my colleague Alastair McAlpine in his recent blog. With this in mind, I have been excited to support the work that colleagues across Scottish Government have been doing to build the AD|ARC database. There is huge potential for the use of the database in interesting and valuable research projects. I look forward to being part of the ADR Scotland team that helps make this happen.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact the project team at AD-ARC@gov.wales.

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