Frequently asked questions
Please find the answers to our frequently asked questions below. If you are unable to find an answer to your question, please do not hesitate to contact us at BLGdataresearch@essex.ac.uk
About the Big Data Network Phase 2 (BDN2)
What is the BDN2?
The enormous volume and complexity of data that are being collected by government departments, businesses and other organisations represents a significant resource within the UK, which can be used to the mutual benefit of academic research, organisations and society as a whole. The ESRC invested in the Big Data Network (BDN2) in order to help optimise this resource. The BDN2 is composed of three organisations working towards fulfilment of this objective: the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, the Consumer Data Research Centre, and the Urban Big Data Centre.
What does BDN2 do?
Centres in Big Data Network Phase 2 make data that are routinely collected by business and local government organisations available for social science research purposes. This is research that makes a difference: it shapes public policies and improves business and service planning; it makes voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective; and it helps inform wider society about what is really going on in modern Britain. Further details are available on the ESRC website.
Where does BDN2 funding come from?
Centres in the Big Data Network Phase 2 are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The ESRC is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) established by Royal Charter in 1965 and receives most of its funding through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The organisation supports independent, high-quality, relevant social science which has an impact on business, the public sector and civil society. Although publicly funded, its Royal Charter emphasises the importance of independence and impartial research.
What are the benefits of using big data in research?
Big data can help researchers to understand social and economic patterns and trends across the UK, at both a local and national level. It can help improve the provision of services, such as social housing or public transport. It can also assist policymakers in being more effective in how they look after people’s health and wellbeing, for example by understanding where health needs lie and what treatments work best for different types of people.
About the data
What do you mean by ‘big data’?
‘Big data’ is a term to describe data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Analysis issues include: high volumes of data; data forms (e.g. images, text); mixed data origins (e.g. social media, sensors, GPS); and data accessibility or securitisation.
What information is being collected and linked?
The information content of linked data will be different for each project, depending on what the researcher is investigating. Researchers need to be able to build up consistent pictures so they can identify trends and patterns in the general population. This in turn shapes the strategies and policies that promote social well-being. Researchers will work with ‘de-identified’ data, which means that all directly identifying information is removed.
What is data linking?
Data Linking is the joining together of multiple datasets from the same or different organisations (where permissions allow) to create a more comprehensive data collection that can be used for detailed research and analysis.
What are the benefits of linking data?
Researchers are often interested in bigger pictures than can be developed from a single dataset. Researchers thus often need to bring together multiple datasets from different organisations or sources to inform the research that in turn informs better decisions. A more comprehensive and relevant data assemblage is thus created for detailed research and analysis.
Will data be used for commercial purposes?
Data will not be used for commercial purposes, all use of data is for research based activity only.
Who will be able to see my data?
We offer researchers who are affiliated with an academic institution, public sector researchers and private sector analysts secure access to data from business and local government in full accordance with legislative requirements and the data owner’s specifications.
Privacy and security
What are personal data?
What are personal data? The Information Commissioner’s Office defines personal data as data which relate to a living individual who can be identified:
- (a) from the data, or
- (b) from the data used alongside other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller. This includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual.
How will you protect data about me?
Information security management is of utmost importance to the Centre. Information that is held by the Centre is subjected to the information security management system ISO27001:013. You can therefore be confident that the Centre operates a system that will securely manage all information.
How do I know that the people using the data will be responsible?
- Every research project is assessed by a project approvals process, undertaken by independent experts and sometimes in association with the data provider.
- The researcher is required to sign a declaration to confirm that they understand their personal responsibilities and obligations.
- Where accessing controlled data, every researcher will be accredited.
- Each researcher requires an institutional guarantor
- Researchers must take a compulsory training programme in administrative data management and security standards or, in the case of CDRC, a safe researcher training course.
What do you mean by an accredited researcher?
Accredited researchers are those who have undergone specific training to ensure that they understand how to access controlled datasets safely and securely. Training covers: data security and personal responsibility, including legal background; security models; breaches and penalties; and statistical disclosure control to ensure that all outputs are safe to use and do not identify individuals.
Will my data be for sale?
No. The BDN2 has been set up for social benefit and is not a commercial enterprise or marketing organisation. We only provide access to data for accredited researchers who are carrying out research with a clear potential public benefit.
How does BDN2 oversee the safe use of data?
The Business and Local Government Data Research Centre takes data privacy very seriously. Data are used for pre-approved projects only and external researchers will have had to submit a full project proposal which is scrutinised before any safeguarded or controlled data are made available. Like the other BDN2 Centres, the BLG is managed on a day to day basis by a robust senior management team, which is made up of the Directors, Co-Directors and Project Managers. The Senior Management Team reports to the ESRC, which is accountable to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
How do I know that the data will be used for public good?
All research projects carried out within BDN2 must have the potential to benefit society and improve quality of life. All new individual research projects undergo an approvals process, in which each project must show that:
- it addresses a legitimate research question and has a clear potential public benefit
- the results of the project will be made public
- it needs to use the BDN2, and would not be more appropriately served by other research council investments (for example Farr Institute, UK Data Service, or one of the longitudinal studies support services).
Do you ask for consent before you use the data?
We only use data that we have a right to access legally. We work with the data owner to obtain permissions where necessary.
What is the difference between ‘de-identified’ and ‘anonymised’ data?
‘De-identified’ data refer to data where any element that directly identifies any individual is completely removed from the dataset. This includes data attributes such as name, address, tax reference number, or National Insurance number. The Information Commissioner's Office defines anonymisation of data as the process of turning data into a form which does not identify individuals and where identification is not likely to take place, allowing for a much wider use of the source.
Where are data stored?
Data held by the Centre are stored in one of two secure locations. We work closely with the University of Essex to securely store our data. Data which is considered to be controlled is held within the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex. Open data are held within a high performance cluster at the University of Essex. Safeguarded data are held within both the UK Data Archive and on the high performance cluster.
About the process
Who can access the data?
Researchers affiliated to an academic institution, public sector researchers and private sector analysts can all apply to access data. All requests are considered on an individual basis. It should be noted that in the case of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre there is a limit on what new projects can be approved in the later stages of the project.
How do researchers get access to the data?
We train researchers to use data safely, lawfully and responsibly. It can be a long process as we have a number of safeguards in place to protect people’s privacy and ensure the data are secure at all times.
Can I see the results of the research?
Research from the BDN2 is published in academic journals and on the different Centre websites. View our Research Repository.
Is the BDN2’s service free for all users?
The BDN2’s service for accessing data is free at the point of use. We also have data managers who can assist with proposal development, data sourcing and data management, but this resource is limited. If you need research staff or other resources, you must provide these or the funds to support them. Additionally, each centre provides training courses and workshops which may be supported by a registration fee. Non-UK researchers may access the open data from the BDN2 data collections. However, data held within the safeguarded or controlled category are only available to researchers from UK organisations. If you are interested in any other type of international research collaboration, please contact us.