Local Data Spaces pilot demonstrates importance of local-level data and analysis to inform local decision making

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 Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service. The 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.

A six-month Local Data Spaces pilot project undertaken between November 2020 and April 2021 provided analytical support to local authorities from academic researchers at the Consumer Data Research Centre. The aim was to help local authorities make the most of the local-level data deposited in the Secure Research Service. As part of this, 10 impact analysis reports were produced for each local authority in England and are now accessible online to local stakeholders for free.

The reports profile a variety of themes related to the local impacts of COVID-19, from demographic and occupational inequalities, through excess mortality, to economic vulnerabilities. More specifically, they cover topics such as local changes to retail and recreation over time; and positive COVID-19 rates by work sector.

Pilot project evaluation and recommendations

An evaluation of the process, impact and feasibility was carried out at the end of the pilot study to assess possibilities for a scaled programme of work for Local Data Spaces. The evaluation report, published today, outlines the findings of the evaluation and offers a set of recommendations for how the Local Data Spaces programme can continue to benefit local communities.

Three key recommendations resulted from the evaluation:

  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.

To read the detailed recommendations and full evaluation findings, see the evaluation report.

In acknowledgement of the recommendations, Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said: “Local authorities need to be empowered to make use of the best data available to inform and tailor local responses to the pandemic. However, the data infrastructure and skills available to do so varies greatly across the country.

“As well as helping to support local decision making at a critical phase of the pandemic, this pilot study is key to informing how future data services might better support the needs of analysts working within a local authority setting. I therefore welcome the recommendations of the pilot project evaluation, and ADR UK will continue to collaborate with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and MHCLG to ensure that data being made available for research can continue to benefit local communities.”

Alison Pritchard, Deputy National Statistician & Director General for Data Capability at ONS, said: “Encouraging local authorities to tap into the potential of our Secure Research Service with tailored access and expert advice is a brilliant example of how data can be used for the public good. The Local Data Spaces pilot has built on analysis of the ONS Covid-19 infection survey and NHS Test & Trace data to provide further rich insights and help inform the pandemic response at a local level.

“Access to these data and analysis produced by the academic partnerships will benefit local decision making as we begin to understand the impact the pandemic has had on our society and how we might respond to future crises.”

Ross Jones, Deputy Director, Innovation & Partnerships Hub, Data & Data Science Directorate, Joint Biosecurity Centre, said: “The use and importance of data and evidence-based decision making have really come to the forefront through the Covid pandemic response, at the local and national level. Facilitating and co-ordinating continued data sharing of health and non-health data efficiently is integral to ensuring local authorities are equipped to deal with future public health emergencies, in addition to addressing their ongoing local needs."

Find out more about the Local Data Spaces programme.

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