Local Data Spaces – supporting local authorities' responses to the coronavirus pandemic

Local Data Spaces – supporting local authorities' responses to the coronavirus pandemic

The Local Data Spaces (LDS) programme is a collaboration between the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC)Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), funded by ADR UK.

Authors: Mark Green, Jacob Macdonald (University of Liverpool), Simon Leech (University of Leeds) and Maurizio Gibin (University College London).

Date: August 2021

Research summary

To enable evidence-informed policy decisions, this research pilot made timely and local data sources and analysis available for local authorities at the height of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. This pilot provided insights at the local level on risks between different occupations, footfall in retail centres, and how business sectors were affected by the pandemic. Researchers from the University of Liverpool, the University of Leeds and University College London created 10 reports for all 314 local authorities in England.

By using several datasets in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service, this project created ‘local data spaces’ for local authorities to access secure data and subsequent analysis previously unavailable to them. Research questions were co-produced with the local authorities, increasing the outcomes and impact from the research. The findings were used to inform a rapid testing pilot in Liverpool, lockdown releases and workplace interventions as considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Data used

This project used sixteen ONS Secure Research Service datasets and local authority ingested data to explore social, economic, and demographic trends surrounding Covid-19 at a local level. These included:

  • Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings: a UK-wide survey on the levels, distribution and make-up of earnings and hours paid for employees including by industry, occupation, geography and age groups.
  • Business Impact and Conditions Survey: a voluntary fortnightly survey collecting real-time indicators of businesses’ views on impacts of the pandemic on turnover, workforce prices, trade and business resilience.
  • Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: a survey containing new indicators from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey to understand the impact of Covid-19 on people, households and communities.
  • COVID-19 Infection Survey: a survey monitoring the prevalence of Covid-19 in the UK population, including swab results, antibody tests and demographic information.
  • NHS Test and Trace data: statistics which include the number of people tested for Covid-19 in England, whether the test was positive or negative, the distance to take a test in-person in England and the number of recent close contacts identified.

Methods used

This pilot study used a co-production led and collaborative study design, which combined robust quantitative analyses and engagement with 25 local authority stakeholders, to identify urgent analysis needs that could inform local policy responses. Engagement meetings with local authorities explored data opportunities, scoped analytical capacity and identified policy needs.

Datasets were matched to novel open small area geospatial measures generated by the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), including sensor footfall mobility data, Internet User Classification and Access to Healthy Assets and Hazards (2017).

The study investigated sub-national patterns and trends, through descriptive statistics on topics including rates of tests delivered, rates of positive Covid-19 tests and mortality rates. Socio-demographic and neighbourhood characteristics were stratified where possible by demographics, occupation, neighbourhood deprivation, geographical areas (lower layer super output areas) and more.

Bespoke reports were produced using open-source R notebooks. Data cleaning, statistical analyses and data visualisations transcripts were included with the code, to remove technical barriers, facilitate reproducibility and ‘upskill’ local authorities.

Research findings

The main finding of the pilot was the effectiveness with which analysis ready data helped local authorities make effective use of local data sources via centralised trusted research environments. Collaboration with Liverpool City Council supported the design of the mass testing pilot, with specific advice enhancing their geospatial analysis. This optimised the location of test sites during the pilot. Findings – specifically that the mass testing pilot did not result in fewer deaths from Covid-19 – informed the national roll-out of lateral flow testing.

Further finding from local analyses demonstrated that there were no significant differences in the prevalence of Covid-19 by sex and across work sectors. There was some tentative evidence of a higher risk of infection among younger women in education and personal services at the start of the second wave of infections in September.

Research impact

This study enabled local authorities to make use of timely local data sources, made available in analysis-ready forms that local authority analysts of varying skills can use. This enabled local authorities to access data insights not previously accessible to them and inform important decision making. Liverpool County Council benefited from bespoke analysis as researchers were able to inform the design and evaluation of their mass testing pilot. This included identifying optimal locations for the expansion of new test sites during the pilot. The reports produced during the pilot and published by the CDRC remain available and have been downloaded over 1,000 times.

These data insights were incorporated into presentations to the Department of Health and Social Care, UK government and SAGE on lessons learnt for shaping the national roll-out of lateral flow testing. This has been a significant component of plans that reopened schools and the economy. Study findings on Covid-19 risk by occupation and workplace were also considered by SAGE specifically on lockdown release and workplace interventions.

Evaluation of the pilot also made recommendations on infrastructure for data sharing between local authorities and central government; support for local authorities to benefit from data access; and the value of academic partnerships with local government.

Research outputs

Publications and reports

Blogs, news posts, and videos

Awards and presentations

About the ONS Secure Research Service

The ONS Secure Reseach Service (SRS) is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch: srs.dev-impact@ons.gov.uk.

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