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.

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 is maximising 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:

  • helping remove barriers to the use of data across multiple LPS resources, where data may have been collected in different formats
  • broadening insights from LPS data through data linkage (between studies and to routine and other data), and capitalising on cutting-edge approaches in data capture, data storage and processing technologies and analytics
  • working 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
  • working with existing infrastructures to help increase policy relevance and impact through engagement of policymaker stakeholders
  • responding to the public voice on complex data-sharing issues, and seeking to maintain public confidence in using their biomedical, health and socioeconomic data for research.

In this way, PRUK is facilitating a greater research understanding of the following determinants of health:

  • biological
  • behavioural
  • social
  • economic
  • environmental.

PRUK is also facilitating a greater research understanding of the complex interplay between the above, guiding improvements in health and societal wellbeing, and informing economic, health and social policy.

The scope of PRUK includes 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.

PRUK leadership team

ESRC and MRC launched a £10.8 million funding opportunity for the PRUK coordinating hub team in May 2023. The leadership team for the coordination hub of PRUK was appointed in 2024. The PRUK leadership team are:

  • Nicholas Timpson, University of Bristol, Co-Director
  • Alissa Goodman, University College London, Co-Director
  • Jennifer Symonds, University College London (CLOSER), LPS Connection
  • Andy Boyd, University of Bristol (UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration), LPS Connection
  • Chris Orton, University of Swansea, Technical Lead
  • Paul Bradshaw, ScotDen Social Research, Forum Lead
  • Rosie McEachan, Born in Bradford, Forum Lead

The leadership team coordinates the delivery of PRUK. The team is working with the community to identify and address priority needs, building on existing provision and commissioning additional activities under the five original themes from the PRUK prospectus:

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

A strong collaborative ethos ensures that PRUK and the wider ecosystem work successfully together. The broad LPS community is integral to the work and includes:

  • the UK’s LPS teams
  • research and policy users of longitudinal data
  • data service providers

The leadership team brings extensive health and social science experience of LPS, data and infrastructure. By maximizing the potential benefits from this longitudinal data, we will help to change lives and society for the better.

As we all benefit day-to-day from longitudinal data, and the insights they provide, the work delivered by PRUK will open new possibilities.

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 has been 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.

Who to contact

Governance, management and panels

PRUK has 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: 16 April 2024

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