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:

Enabling data linkage in CLOSER studies

This project helped cohort and longitudinal studies overcome barriers to data linkage and highlighted ways of linking study data to routine health records

Administrative and education

Happy children at school
This project is working towards linking data from specific cohorts with administrative datasets, focusing on indicators of economic activity and education.

Geographic data

This project explored how researchers could best enrich their analyses with contextual information about the areas in which longitudinal study participants live.

Hospital Episode Statistics

This project is exploring the value gained by linking study data to health data from the NHS such as Hospital Episode Statistics.

Primary care records

This research aims to pool the experience, understanding and contacts gained by longitudinal studies with success in linking primary care records and study data, in order to help other studies overcome technical barriers to achieving linkage and optimise their research potential.

Social media data

This project will develop a framework for linking and sharing social media data longitudinal measurement of mental health across CLOSER cohorts.