Data linkage

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What does linking data involve and why is it important?

Government departments routinely collect data on various aspects of life in the UK: children’s progress through the education system, information about benefits claimed and taxes paid, and individuals’ experiences of hospital treatment.

It is widely recognised that these data have immense potential value for research across a wide range of subject areas. The value of ‘administrative’ data for research can be even greater when securely linked, with participant consent, to longitudinal survey data.

What are the challenges?

Administrative data potentially provide a valuable resource for researchers but are often very complex and detailed. Work will be needed to construct useful and simple measures from administrative records that can be used by a wide range of researchers in conjunction with survey data. Longitudinal data and administrative data will only be linked where study members have given explicit permission and consent. It is therefore important to check what factors influence consent in order to analyse the data in a way that takes account of potential biases.

What is CLOSER doing about it?

CLOSER is working on a coordinated and strategic approach to improving the links between these different types of data and improving their accessibility for researchers. Under the Data Linkage work stream, there are six research projects:

Linkage to administrative and educational data

Linkage to geographic data

Linkage to health data – hospital episode statistics

Enabling data linkage in CLOSER studies

Setting standards to maximise the scientific potential of primary care record linkage in longitudinal studies

Framework for linking and sharing social media data for high-resolution longitudinal measurement of mental health across CLOSER cohorts