Consumer Data Research Centre

FAQs

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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 in order to help optimise this resource.

Phase 2 of the ESRC Big Data Network (BDN2) is focused on making data routinely collected by business and local government organisations, accessible for academic research and is comprised of three organisations: 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 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 at: www.esrc.ac.uk/research/our-research/big-data-network/big-data-network-phase-2/

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Where does BDN2 funding come from?

Centres in the Big Data Network Phase 2 are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

 

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What are the benefits of using big data in research?

Vast amounts of UK consumer data are are generated each day, providing potentially valuable insight to help organizations operate more efficiently. The CDRC works with organizations to open up their data to trusted researchers in order to provide solutions that drive economic growth and improve our society.

By linking big data that are created and stored by organisations detailing social, environmental, or economic activities, we can identify new trends and patterns, impossible to see from single sources alone. Linking and analysing multiple sources of big data can:

– Reduce the costs of undertaking surveys and the burden on those that respond to them
– Facilitate faster, better, and more focused decision-making
– Add to information that has already been collected and thereby enrich it

The UK is now taking action to be at the forefront of these developments to increase our understanding of our own national picture through the BDN2.

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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.

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What information is being collected and linked?

Consumer-related data are data generated by retailers and other service organisations as part of their business process. They can be used to monitor the needs, preferences and behaviours of customers. Examples of consumer-related data include:

– Sales data from till receipts
– Loyalty card and reward scheme data
– Market research data
– Travel records
– Retail turnover by store or product category
– Energy consumption meter data

To view more information about some relevant research projects, please visit https://www.cdrc.ac.uk/retail-masters/2015-projects/.

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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.

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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.

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Will data be used for commercial purposes?

The use of data is to conduct research in order to generate outputs which can be utilised to offer a better understanding of society. We operate in a mixed economy and goals such as better targeting of energy efficiency measures or improving public transport services may often be most effectively achieved in partnership with business or commercial interests. This is consistent with the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2015 Strategic Plan for facilitating partnerships and realising impact (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/files/news-events-and-publications/publications/corporate-publications/strategic-plan/esrc-strategic-plan-2015/)

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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 access to controlled and safeguarded data from business and local government in full accordance with legislative requirements and the data owner’s specifications.

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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.

 

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How will you protect data about me?

Information security management is of utmost importance to the Centre. Information that is held by the Centres is subjected to either the requirements of Police Assured Secure Facilities (PASF) or the information security management system ISO27001:013. This certification confirms that the Centre operates a system that will securely manage all data.

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How do I know that the people using the data will be responsible?

To access data through our controlled and safeguarded settings:

– Every researcher will be accredited
– Every research project is assessed by a research approvals process, undertaken by independent experts and sometimes in association with the data provider.
– 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.

The researcher is required to sign a declaration to confirm that they understand their personal responsibilities and obligations

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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.

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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 aim to provide access to data for researchers who are carrying out research with a clear potential public benefit.

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How does BDN2 oversee the safe use of data?

The CDRC uses an Advisory Board of expert and lay members to ratify major data acquisition and monitor the effectiveness of the organisation. Like the other Centres, the CDRC 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.

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How do I know that the data will be used for public good?

Research projects using safeguarded and controlled data 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)
– in the case of the UBDC, the project would not usually be undertaken by a government department as part of its operational business

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Do you ask for consent before you use the data?

No, we only process data that we have a right to access legally without the consent of the individuals to which they pertain. In the case of the CDRC, the consent of the data provider is also sought.

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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.

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/anonymisation/ 

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Where are data stored?

The CDRC offers a three tier data service (open, safeguarded or controlled) and the type of storage governed by this. Controlled data are held at its three secure laboratory facilities available at University College London, the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool.

Open data and safeguarded data are held securely on high performance servers at University College London, the University of Liverpool, and the University of Leeds.

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Who can access the data?

Researchers affiliated to an academic institution, public sector researchers and private sector analysts can all apply to access controlled and safeguarded data. All requests are considered on an individual basis.

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How do researchers get access to the data?

We train researchers to use controlled 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.

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Can I see the results of the research?

Research from the Centre is published in academic journals and on the different Centre websites.

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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 scientists 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, the Controlled Data Service, which supports access to administrative data is only for data from UK organisations. If you are interested in any other type of international research collaboration, please contact us.

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