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Louise Corti

12 July 2023, 1:43 UTC Share

Data for Policy: working with data from the Office for National Statistics

In this blog Louise Corti, Head of Analytical Insights and Impact at the SRS, Official for National Statistics (ONS) speaks about how policy impact managers and knowledge brokers can work with ONS to connect and promote policy research being done in their institutions. This follows from the UPEN webinar, Data for Policy: working with secure microdata at the Office for National Statistics held on 9 November 2022.

What type of data is available for research for policy research?

The Secure Research Service (SRS) is the ONS’ controlled data environment, also known as a Trusted Research Environment (TRE). A range of powerful research-ready datasets are available for policy research, helping to investigate topical themes such as the economy, levelling up, inequality, health and crime and justice. The most popular datasets in October 2022, comprising economic and business surveys and databases, were:  

The ONS works closely with the UKRI-funded Administrative Data Research (ADR) UK to help make available new linked UK-based administrative data, and to provide opportunities for research funding to explore these invaluable assets. The most requested in October 2022 were:  

How do researchers gain access to these data?  

The SRS utilises ‘The Five Safes’, a philosophy created at the ONS by Ritchie and colleagues in 2007. It has become a popular framework for safely providing access to data. The SRS works with hundreds of quantitative researchers across UK sectors, training them to become accredited, facilitating the accreditation of research projects via appropriate legal gateways, and approving their publication outputs (checking for disclosure risk).  

Around two-thirds of the projects are conducted within academia. Access to UK accredited researchers is free, which is unique when compared to the rest of the world, for example in France where access can cost thousands of Euros for a single academic project.  

UK institutions can provide the ‘safe setting’ required to connect to our data service, using Assured Organisational Connectivity (AOC) agreements or the more recent SafePod Network. Around 110 Universities already have a working AOC in place with the ONS.  

What is ONS doing around capturing and promoting impact from these data?  

The Analytical Insights and Impact team at the ONS help support impact and engagement work in the SRS. The team tracks how research is being disseminated, provides overviews of activity and type of questions being asked, and works with selected researchers who have published their findings to write case studies, or invite them to knowledge exchange events to share their experiences and work.  

While researchers are expected to report to the ONS what they have published or promoted from their accredited projects, many do not. UPEN members can certainly help improve on this: not only does it comply with their university’s AOC agreement, but it is invaluable in supporting monitoring and evaluation exercises required for our ONS government-run data services. Data owners often have to justify the provision of access to data to the research community.  

Research outcomes: policy and services  

Our co-created case studies help elucidate the value and potential value of the data, by providing a simple overview of a research project’s aims, what ’public good’ the researchers expected to meet, the methods they used and any outcomes and impact.  
We have developed a simple typology of outputs, which has yet to become an ‘outcome’, and includes the following types of research ‘products’.  


  • Journal publication
  • Working paper
  • Book/chapter
  • Govt/funder report
  • Internal report /working paper
  • Published presentation
  • Dissertation/thesis
  • News item/interview/blog post
  • ONS Case Study
  • Statistical code
  • ONS Statistical Bulletin
  • ONS/IDS article
  • User Guide
  • Secure Dataset
  • Dashboard
  • Other
  • Outputs exempt
  • Nothing

These are used to create dashboards of project activity for the SRS. Altmetric is also being used to help track publications where they have cited datasets used.  

We use our knowledge base of accredited projects to undertake thematic syntheses, for example looking at how data is being used for educational policy research, and what findings and impacts these may have had. This work produces good examples of policy work, and culminates in published case studies and a thematic knowledge exchange event.  

Defining outcomes  

Like all impact managers, we are chasing the ‘golden thread’, which connects a research question, analysis and an observed change in one of the six public good outcomes, as set out in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and the Digital Economy Act 2017 Code of Practice.  

We are currently working on defining ‘outcomes’ for the public good, so that we have a codable classification to represent observed outcomes. As these are notoriously hard to pin down or observe, we use measures that state ‘how close’ the work using our data came to policy or service change. We work with a range of helpful knowledge brokers, including UPEN, who do a fantastic job of connecting academic to areas of research interest (ARIs) and calls for evidence.  

Your help  

As University impact managers and knowledge brokers, what can you do to help ONS better demonstrate the value and impact from use of these data by academics and research teams in your own organization? You can:  

  • Get your academics to report their research outputs via our self-reporting form;
  • Contact us if you spot any great research using our data in your own organization; we can help you and the researchers promote it;
  • Nominate a piece of impactful research using ONS data to help test and refine our ‘Outputs to Outcomes’ typology work.
  • Promote the use of robust citation of ONS data and our new DOIs for data: quick guidance in the SRS catalogue FAQ
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