Using the ONS Secure Research Service for informing and evaluating government policy

Over the last few months, our impact team has undertaken a review of accredited research projects in the ONS Secure Research Service that were commissioned by government and led by third and private sectors organisations. Organisations undertaking the work included key UK centres doing critical policy-related work.


The aim of the review was to identify:

  • which datasets and what statistical methods were being used in the ONS Secure Research Service for commissioned policy-related work
  • which organisations were using data for this purpose
  • what impact did the work have?

We wanted to provide a birds-eye view of the work being undertaken in this area, and to identify some case studies that showed where and how insight and impact through use of Secure Research Service data could be achieved.

Scope of the review

Projects in scope were active between October 2014 and November 2022 and were led by third or private sector organisations who were commissioned to lead the research. Academic projects that had named a ‘commissioner/sponsor’ as their own university or UK funding agencies (e.g., UKRI) were treated as having standard academic grants, which were out of scope for this exercise.

The Impact team routinely capture published outputs and outcomes related to the projects, where this information can be located. 


The report consolidates the outcomes and impact of analysis and evidences the value of data services to public-good research, in this case contributing to policy planning and service delivery, and evaluation of government interventions and support.

The most popular dataset used was the Business Structure Database – UK  with almost half of all projects using it, followed by Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings - UK and the Annual Business Survey - UK. The most common themes being addressed by the research were: ‘Economic output and productivity’, ‘Education, training and skills’, ‘Employment and the labour market’, and ‘Business and industry’. The three key analysis methods used were regression, difference-in-differences, and propensity score matching. The report is supplemented with four case studies that highlight impactful use of data to develop and evaluate policy. We worked with leading policy analysis or economic consultancy organisations - Belmana, Frontier Economics, Hardisty Jones Associates and Ipsos - to showcase the outcomes of their policy-relevant work.

Though popular, the theme of education was not addressed in these case studies as we have already undertaken a separate review of educational research using the ONS Secure Research Service.

To learn more about our findings, you can read the report: ‘Thematic Research review:  Commissioned research for policy. We hope it will be of interest to other researchers using or planning to use ONS Secure Research Service data for similar work, and for policymakers to appreciate the power of quantitative data to help design and review policy questions and intervention. 

Find out more

To find out more about the ONS Analytical Impact team, visit the ONS website or contact Remember to report your public-facing publications and other outputs from your work in the Secure Research Service to us via our Outputs Reporting Form.

Read the full report: ‘Thematic research review: Commissioned research for policy’.   


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