ADR UK-funded Local Data Spaces wins ONS Research Excellence Award

Each year, roughly 400 projects gain approval to access the secure data managed by Office for National Statistics for statistical research. The research outcomes inform an extremely diverse range of economic or societal issues, including the UK government’s response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The Research Excellence Awards recognise the excellent and innovative analyses carried out and promote best practice research methodologies and data matching or linking. The awards promote greater awareness and understanding of the data available and the public good achieved by statistical research.

Local Data Spaces is a programme granting local authorities across England secure access to key, local-level Covid-19 data – such as from NHS Test and Trace, the Covid-19 Infection Survey and the Business Registry and Employment Survey (BRES) – in the ONS Secure Research Service (SRS). The Local Data Spaces programme  has won a Research Excellence Project Award for demonstrating excellence in methodology, collaboration, communication and presentation of research, and public benefit.

The Local Data Spaces pilot project took place between November 2020 and April 2021 to provide analytical support to local authorities from academic researchers at the CDRC. The aim was to help local authorities make the most of the local-level data deposited in the SRS. In May 2021, 10 impact analysis reports were produced for each local authority in England and have since been made accessible online to local stakeholders for free.

In August, findings from the Local Data Spaces pilot study were published, which included the project evaluation report and three key recommendations:

  1. A centrally coordinated data sharing infrastructure is required for future pandemic preparedness.
  2. Local authorities require additional support to harness the benefits of trusted research environments. This includes additional support for trusted research environment accreditation and use, as well as support with rapidly evolving data needs.
  3. Academic partnerships provide a unique opportunity to fill critical analytical gaps in an emergency response setting.

On winning the Research Excellence Award, Dr Mark Green, lead researcher, said: “The pandemic has showed the importance of getting the right data into the right hands. Local Data Spaces has helped to open up new sources of data to local authorities that they were previously unaware of and helped them proactively respond to COVID-19. Our work has been used to support real-world policy decisions including the evaluation of lateral flow testing in Liverpool, impacts of the furlough scheme in Norfolk and providing urgent data to SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).”

“We are honoured to receive this prestigious ONS award. I am really proud of how our team worked at pace to support urgent policy needs during a global crisis.”

Prof. Alex Singleton, co-Director of CDRC, said: “The ADR UK and ESRC funding enabling the Local Data Spaces project perfectly illustrates the value and impact that can be unlocked by the social sciences when integrating consumer and government data within trusted research environments.”

The judging panel said: "The Local Data Space project brought the power of data to the fore. Providing a demonstratable link between research impact, this project demonstrated the full potential of collaboration between local authorities and academia to tackle complex problems at pace and inform policy."

The Local Data Spaces programme is a partnership established and coordinated by the Joint Biosecurity Centre with funding from ADR UK. ONS is involved as a technical partner and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) in an advisory capacity.

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