1. Summary

The Approved Researcher Scheme is used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to grant access to data that cannot be published openly, for statistical research purposes, as permitted by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA).

To access data in this way, an individual must hold ONS Researcher Accreditation and have their research proposal approved by the ONS Microdata Release Panel, on behalf of the National Statistician. Following a public consultation in 2015, the processes and criteria used within the Approved Researcher Scheme have been revised.

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2. ONS Researcher Accreditation

To be an Accredited Researcher, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  1. have an undergraduate degree (or higher) including a significant proportion of maths or statistics

    or

  2. be able to demonstrate at least 3 years quantitative research experience

    and

  3. have successfully completed the Safe User of Research data Environments (SURE) training course, run by ONS, the UK Data Service, the Administrative Data Research Network or HM Revenue and Customs

  4. agree to their inclusion in a list of all accredited researchers, published on the ONS website

  5. agree to publish the results of all research projects completed through the Approved Researcher Scheme1

  6. sign and adhere to a formal Accredited Researcher Declaration

ONS Researcher Accreditation will last for a period of 5 years.

Individuals who do not meet this academic or experience criteria, but who have been asked to contribute to a research project led by an Accredited Researcher may be granted Provisional Accreditation, subject to meeting the following criteria:

  1. criteria 3 to 6 for full accreditation, must be met

  2. an Accredited Researcher must agree to direct, supervise and take responsibility for all work undertaken by the applicant

  3. the applicant may only work on projects with the responsible Accredited Researcher

  4. both the applicant and the Accredited Researcher must be contracted to the same organisation or institution

  5. the application must explain how the individual’s skills will contribute to any research projects they work on

Provisional Researcher Accreditation will last for a period of one year.

The application forms for Full and Provisional Researcher Accreditation should be completed and returned to ONS by email: VML.Service.Desk@ons.gov.uk. Further guidance is available to help you complete these.

Notes

  1. ONS may grant exemptions to these criteria in exceptional circumstances (e.g. Where there are security concerns around naming individuals, or there is a need for confidentiality in the consideration of sensitive policy development within Government)
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3. Approved Research Projects

Accredited Researchers who require access to unpublished data, protected under the SRSA (2007), must submit a research application to the ONS Microdata Release Panel which explains:

  1. a summary of their research proposal
  2. an explanation of how this project would serve “the public good”
  3. the data required for analysis
  4. the names of all Accredited Researchers who will work on the project
  5. an estimate of the time required for the project to be completed
  6. details of how and where the results of the project will be published upon completion

The primary purpose of all Approved Research projects must be to serve the public good in one or more of the following ways:

  1. to provide an evidence base for public policy decision-making
  2. to provide an evidence base for public service delivery
  3. to provide an evidence base for decisions which are likely to significantly benefit the UK economy, society or quality of life of people in the UK
  4. to replicate, validate or challenge Official Statistics
  5. to replicate, validate or challenge existing research
  6. to significantly extend understanding of social or economic trends or events by improving knowledge or challenging widely accepted analyses
  7. to improve the quality, coverage or presentation of existing statistical information

An Accredited Researcher may also apply for access to data to undertake exploratory analysis, to inform a final research proposal, by demonstrating how that proposal would serve the public good. Such access is granted for a maximum of one year, and no outputs can be released or published from these analyses.

The application forms for Full and Exploratory projects should be completed and returned to ONS by email: VML.Service.Desk@ons.gov.uk

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4. Microdata Release Panel (MRP)

The panel was established by the National Statistician to ensure that unpublished data are only made available by ONS for statistical research in line with legislation, the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and ONS policies. The MRP ensures that:

  • the confidentiality of data made available for statistical research is protected
  • a consistent decision making approach is taken when considering all requests for access to unpublished data for statistical research
  • access is only granted for research that serves the public good

The panel meets monthly to consider all applications for access to data through the Approved Researcher scheme. The panel’s decision will be one of four outcomes:

  • application approved – arrangements for secure access to relevant data will then be made
  • more information required – Researcher will be asked to provide more detail in one or more parts of their application, to inform a final decision
  • application referred – where the Panel concludes that the proposed research meets the requirements but has concerns around its sensitivity or public acceptability, it will be referred to the National Statistics Data Ethics Advisory Committee for review
  • application rejected – The Panel do not consider that the research proposal meets the requirements of an Approved Researcher scheme

The panel is chaired by the Deputy Director of ONS Public Policy Division and comprises senior managers and subject matter experts from across ONS.

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5. Transition for existing Approved Researchers

ONS are offering all existing approved researchers the option to transition to the updated Approved Researcher scheme without the need to complete a new application or re-take the SURE training course.

Researchers who choose not to transition to the new scheme, can continue with their existing projects for a period of one year, before access to ONS data is withdrawn. All current research projects must be transitioned or completed by 12 July 2017.

If you wish to transition to the new scheme, please follow the simple steps below.

What you need to do:

Step 1 – Please take the time to carefully read the Transitional Training.pdf document.

Step 2 – Please return a signed copy of the Transitional Training Declaration to AR.transition@ons.gov.uk

Step 3 – Please study the ONS Accredited Researcher Declaration, and confirm you are happy to move to the new ONS AR Scheme and continue your research under the new terms and conditions. Return a signed copy of this document to AR.transition@ons.gov.uk

Once you have returned the appropriate documentation, we will write to you to confirm your successful transition to the new scheme.

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6. The UK Data Service

The UK Data Service (UKDS), based at the University of Essex, provides controlled access to a wide range of social and economic research data, including a number de-identified ONS datasets.

The Approved Researcher scheme is used to govern access to ONS data managed by the UKDS, including those available under the terms of a Special Licence. Details of the data available and application process are available on the UKDS website.

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7. The Centre for Longitudinal Study Information & User Support (CeLSIUS)

The CeLSIUS team provide support to UK-based users of the ONS Longitudinal Study (LS) from the academic, voluntary and public sectors. They work at the ONS office at Drummond Gate in London. If you are employed in one of these sectors and would like to use the LS, CeLSIUS staff will help you through the application process.

More information is available on the CeLSIUS website.

If you are interested in using the LS but are not employed in one of these sectors, or are based outside the UK, please contact the LS Development Team on: LongitudinalStudy@ons.gsi.gov.uk

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