Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Population Research UK

Population Research UK (PRUK) is a new national resource designed to maximise the use of, and benefits from, UK longitudinal population studies across social, economic and biomedical science. PRUK is funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund and is currently in a commissioning phase.

The total budget is £9 million
This is a single programme running from 2021 to 2028
Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC) (co-funders)

The scope and what we're doing

UK longitudinal population studies (LPS) are a national asset based on the generous donation of detailed longitudinal data by participants over decades.

PRUK will maximise the potential of this data by bringing together and developing the infrastructure, processes and people that will enable LPS data to be efficiently enhanced, accessed and analysed.

PRUK is expected to:

  • help remove barriers to the use of data across multiple LPS resources, where data may have been collected in different formats
  • broaden insights from LPS data through data linkage (between studies and to routine and other data), and capitalise on cutting-edge approaches in data capture, data storage and processing technologies and analytics
  • work with studies to develop practices and standards that ensure UK LPS infrastructures are interoperable with each other in the future and with other international LPS data-sharing initiatives
  • work with existing infrastructures to help increase policy relevance and impact through engagement of policymaker stakeholders
  • respond to the public voice on complex data-sharing issues, and seek to maintain public confidence in using their biomedical, health and socioeconomic data for research.

In this way, PRUK will be able to facilitate a greater research understanding of the following determinants of health:

  • biological
  • behavioural
  • social
  • economic
  • environmental.

PRUK will also be able to facilitate a greater research understanding of the complex interplay between the above, which will guide improvements in health and societal wellbeing, and inform economic, health and social policy.

The scope of PRUK will include all significant UK LPS, encompassing longitudinal population studies, panel studies and biobanks.

PRUK activities will prioritise resources currently or previously funded by ESRC and MRC in the first instance.

Wellcome has worked alongside UKRI to develop PRUK and may in the future consider whether to become a funding partner. We anticipate that PRUK will be established during 2023, as a result of an open competitive process.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Preparatory work

During 2021, ESRC, MRC and Wellcome commissioned Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) to undertake a scoping programme. This was established to inform where more action was needed to maximise the research potential of longitudinal population study (LPS) data.

Fundamental to the scoping programme was:

  • consultation with both the LPS community and wider stakeholders
  • learning from current LPS and existing data resources.

The resultant population research UK prospectus on the HDRUK website (PDF, 1,404KB) outlines possible activities and a structure for PRUK. In response to the findings of the prospectus, ESRC and MRC have commissioned three foundation projects in preparation for PRUK.

First, CLOSER has completed a comprehensive audit, gathering information across UK LPS on the status of individual study data. Gathering and summarising the information currently available will help the funders to gain a good understanding of what would be required to support data sharing with the wider research community.

Secondly, UK Data Service is delivering a programme of work to develop and expand existing training opportunities to enable wider sharing and use of LPS resources. This programme of work is being developed in collaborative consultation with LPS teams to help ensure that:

  • needs are appropriately met
  • existing expertise and best practices in training are identified and shared.

Thirdly, an interdisciplinary project is being commissioned to understand coverage in UK LPS. The project’s 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.

These measures will help ensure that LPS resources are well-aligned to take advantage of PRUK and any future opportunities.

Commissioning of PRUK

ESRC and MRC launched a £10.8 million funding opportunity for the PRUK coordinating hub team in May 2023. The opportunity seeks to appoint an interdisciplinary team to provide leadership, coordination and management of PRUK.

The hub will be required to lead and deliver a separate funding opportunity for the spokes (or functions) of PRUK later in 2023. The total funding available for the spokes will be £5.25 million (ringfenced within the total £10.8 million award), this funding will be awarded to the hub for onward distribution and management.

This process will start with a series of community co-production workshops, followed by an open competition led by the hub (conducted in line with UKRI funding principles).

The hub directors will also be responsible for the management and disbursement of a collaboration and innovation fund of £1.875 million (also ringfenced within the total award).

The spokes will be outcome-focused and will be based on the recommended activities of the PRUK prospectus, which are:

  • data discovery
  • data access
  • data linkage
  • training and capacity building
  • coordination and advocacy

In addition to the prospectus, and additional community engagement on priorities, the hub team will draw upon additional scoping work relevant to PRUK. This includes recommendations from the initial foundation projects already commissioned; the state of the data audit, LPS data management training and coverage projects, and ESRC’s future data services programme.

Who to contact

Governance, management and panels

PRUK will have strong governance from the Programme Board, with internal UKRI and external representation, and an independent scientific advisory board.

Data security is a central consideration. The funders recognise the importance of the public voice on complex data sharing issues and wish to maintain people’s confidence in the use of biomedical, health and socioeconomic longitudinal population study (LPS) data for research.

All data donated by LPS participants is anonymised and held in a secure environment. It will only be shared with bona fide users who demonstrate a justifiable reason for access.

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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