The UK Strategy for Data Resources for Social and Economic Research (referred to as the National Data Strategy – NDS) sought to identify, prioritise and assist in the development of and access to research data. It provided a strategy for how different organisations can work with the research community to ‘maximise the research potential of existing data and to create new resources, developing better access to existing data and facilitating a broad research agenda’. Set in this context, the purpose of the SIM Wales WG/ESRC Fellowship was essentially to undertake a feasibility study to examine what mechanisms would need to be put in place to construct a 100% Sample Welsh Longitudinal Study (WLS) against which other survey and administrative data sources can be linked.
There were many and varied challenges associated with the establishment of a WLS, both in terms of the construction of such databases and how research access is managed. Whilst the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Project (SAIL) established at Swansea University already provided a mechanism through which survey and administrative data sets can be linked, the main difficulty faced by the WG was that it does not have responsibility for some of the key data sets about Wales that it would wish to see included in the WLS. Most notably, the Office for National Statistics remain the data custodians for Census data and the Labour Force Survey collected from the population of Wales. Nonetheless, an important development in the UK in recent years has been the implementation of the 2007 Statistics and Service Registration Act that established a Statistics Board who among its functions is to ‘promote and assist statistical research, in particular providing access (where it may lawfully do so) to data held by it. Through desk based research, interviews with representatives from UK Statistics Offices and research teams involved in the development and maintenance of existing UK Longitudinal Studies, the fellowship sought to determine whether a WLS can be feasibly established, where it would be constructed and what data it would contain.