Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Future data services

The aim of the Future Data Services (FDS) programme is to establish the next generation of data services beyond 2024.

To achieve this, ESRC is:

  • gathering evidence for, exploring and assessing the future needs of its communities
  • developing options whilst recognising that research is more interdisciplinary than ever before.
This programme of work will conclude following evidence gathering, options appraisal and commissioning of the next phase of ESRC data services in autumn 2024.
Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The overall aim of the Future Data Services (FDS) programme is to decide how best to invest in the next generation of data services beyond 2024.

ESRC needs to consider how to invest in providing access to social science data and associated services in the future. The aim of this is to ensure that the services and infrastructure we fund supports the needs of data users, owners and managers from across sectors, and remains fit for purpose, within a rapidly evolving landscape. This will be achieved through:

  • evidence gathering
  • synthesis of the evidence
  • analysis of options
  • agreement of an overall vision
  • consequent commissioning.

UK Data Service

In 2012, ESRC funded the UK Data Service, which brought together a number of investments under the same roof. This included the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS).

Established in 2003, ESDS was managed and led by the UK Data Archive and consisted of four distinct services for researchers:

  • government
  • international
  • longitudinal
  • qualitative.

The pilot project Secure Data Service was established in 2009 with additional funding provided to the UK Data Archive from ESRC. UK Data Service brought all of these services together as a single service in 2012, led by a consortium of institutions including:

  • UK Data Archive (University of Essex)
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University College London.

It continues to provide a wide range of services for users accessing data, including training, comprehensive documentation and support, and archiving facilities. It also plays a role in supporting users to use data more productively. UK Data Service remains the ESRC-funded repository for data generated through ESRC-funded grants.

Data landscape

The data access landscape has changed considerably since the initial investment in UK Data Service in 2012 due to a variety of factors, including:

  • developments in technology
  • increased public awareness of how and why their data is used
  • a growth in the number of trusted research environments
  • an increasing demand for openness in data and research publishing.

While the data landscape has expanded (with more types and sources of data available for researchers to use), service provision has also greatly increased. A number of new services have been established since UK Digital Service was launched in 2012. These include:

In addition, CLOSER has operated to provide services to researchers who are specifically using longitudinal data for their work.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Upcoming workshops
Title of workshop Date and time Intended audience Registration link
Future data services survey of data users October to November 2022 Users of social science data (record-level data, such as survey response data, administrative records, mobile phone data, interview transcripts), particularly but not exclusively using ESRC funded data services (UK Data Service, Urban Big Data Centre, Consumer Data Research Centre) Survey
Interdisciplinary users of social science data workshop 10 November 2022

1:30pm to 4:30pm

Research users and creators of social science data. This includes those beyond the social science remit who interact with social science data in an interdisciplinary capacity Workshop
Student and early career researcher users of social science data workshop 16 November 2022

10am to 1pm

All students and early career researchers who use social science data Workshop
Data services of the future event January 2023 All stakeholders who are interested in updates on the next steps for the Future Data Services programme Coming soon

Who to contact

Ask a question about the programme

Future Data Services team


Governance, management and panels

The review is conducted by the ESRC head office, working with a senior strategic fellow and a strategic fellow with input from data users, owners and managers in the ESRC community.

Oversight of the Future Data Services (FDS) programme of work is provided by a UKRI steering group, an external Programme Board with additional input from five thematic task and finish groups and a user panel.

Last updated: 27 October 2022

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