As part of the PRUK programme, ESRC and MRC are commissioning an interdisciplinary project to develop a methodology for assessing, on a consistent basis, the coverage of individual longitudinal population studies (LPS).
Supporting PRUK’s vision, the project will maximise the use, innovation and benefit from the UK’s rich collection of LPS across social and economic, and biomedical science.
The project aim is to develop the means to provide consistent, reliable information for potential users to enable them to assess the suitability of each study’s data for different types of research questions across the full spectrum of social, economic and biomedical sciences.
This funding opportunity specifies the use of two of the large population cohorts, UK Biobank (UKB) and the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70), as case studies to be used in developing the methodology. Proposals to undertake this work are invited and will be assessed in open competition.
The budget for this project is £150,000 (80% FEC) across nine months.
Background and scope
Within the wider discussion about coverage, there is current interest in the means to assess to what extent data from existing LPS are suitable for use by biomedical and social scientists to address particular research questions.
The flagship UKB data resource, co-funded by MRC, is a key example of a large cohort that is not widely used by the social science community. Meanwhile there is recognition that ageing birth cohort studies established long ago and designed for use primarily by the social sciences, face the challenge of continuing to sustain coverage of the relevant UK population. Such as BCS70, funded primarily by ESRC.
This is why the examples of UKB and BCS70 have been selected as case studies to trial the methodology developed in this project.
The UK’s LPS are largely dependent on public funds and are intended for use for public benefit. Over the last few years, a number of reports and audits have highlighted gaps in the coverage of data collections relating to protected characteristics and vulnerable groups.
The COVID-19 pandemic and governmental and societal emphasis on inequalities, regional differences in opportunities and social justice, and UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) recent equality, diversity and inclusion strategy have reinforced the importance of equity and inclusion in data collections.
Recent reports have identified that future LPS should be designed, and existing studies should be improved, where possible, to ensure coverage of all parts of the population that they seek to represent. Especially members of vulnerable groups who may miss the benefits that research using LPS will bring.
There is a need for transparency about the degree of coverage of existing LPS and being able to measure this in a recognised way and provide standardised information on coverage. These are important first steps that will help secondary users of data to understand whether a study is suitable for their research or could lead to biases.
Funding opportunity aims
The aims are:
- to test general principles, including developing and testing methods, to add greater value to existing UKRI funded LPS, through learning gained from pilot studies with two major LPS datasets
- to enable provision of information transparently and consistently on the coverage of existing LPS data regarding their suitability for particular research questions, by the following means:
- enabling secondary data users to better understand the coverage of data in the relevant LPS datasets, and the suitability of each for addressing particular research questions
- identifying barriers to secondary use around understanding the suitability of a study’s data coverage for particular research questions across biomedical and social science, and determining how best to overcome these in order to support increased secondary use of LPS data by researchers, and to gain more value from decades of public investment, for research for public benefit
- to further understanding and provide a consistent information base to support work to address, sustain and improve the coverage of UK LPS
To meet these aims, successful proposals will be expected to demonstrate how they will for each of the two LPS datasets, as case studies:
- identify what the original basis was for the study in terms of the target population, the initial issued dataset sample, and recruitment and retention at each subsequent wave or sweep
- identify what data is held in each dataset which would identify specific population subgroups and who is included in terms of key characteristics relevant to research uses of the data, assessing what statistical limitations exist on using the data to represent certain population sub-groups. For example, those with protected characteristics, vulnerable groups (homeless or prison etc.), social demographics, or rare genetic conditions
- develop through testing proposals for evidence-based indicators tools to enable provision of information on a consistent basis across LPS, to help researchers across the social and biomedical sciences to understand whether a dataset is suitable to address their research question
Funding opportunity deliverables
The project will produce the following deliverables:
- a methodology (or methodologies) developed from these two case studies, for assessing on a consistent and transparent basis the coverage of individual LPS datasets, indicating the statistical limitations on the use of each. A clear rationale for the methodologies should be provided. This should be capable of being applied to any UK LPS dataset to provide information for secondary users on a consistent and transparent basis
- an improved understanding of the current BCS70 and UKB datasets and their potential usage beyond current user communities
- a case study of the coverage of UKB in terms of limitations of the data, potential gaps in the coverage in the cohort, and an indication of statistical limitations this might place on future research using the data
- a case study of the coverage of BCS70 in terms of limitations of the data, potential gaps in the coverage in the cohort, and an indication of statistical limitations this might place on future research using the data
Monitoring and reporting
Requirements regarding monitoring and reporting will be set out in the terms and conditions of the grant award between ESRC and the award recipient. It will be a condition of funding that grant holders provide an interim update on progress.
At the start of the grant, the grant holders will be required to produce an updated timeline, deliverables list and risk register for the investment, for regular discussion with ESRC.