BLOG - The value of social science and administrative data research in Scotland: how we are helping respond to Covid-19

As we enter new phases of the pandemic, how can administrative data help us to better understand what’s happened and inform policy and practice in preparation for potential future waves?

Covid-19 has had widespread ramifications across society. It has not just impacted on physical health and death rates, but on the economy, our environment, different forms of social care, the wellbeing of the population and, ultimately, the way we live our lives: from our patterns of working and schooling, modes of travel, holiday plans and interactions with services and each other.

Here at The Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) we bring together an interdisciplinary range of researchers in criminology, social policy, population health, nursing and urban studies. Combining social science and data expertise, we develop evidence-based insights from analysis of public sector data. In response to this crisis, we are striving to better understand the impact of the pandemic on society, in particular how it has affected different parts of the population and examining the non-medical factors that may impact on outcomes.

Working with Scottish Government, our ADR Scotland partner, we have supported the development of the COVID-19 data holding in Scotland to ensure timely and secure access to data and help provide answers to key analytical and research questions around the effects of COVID-19 on health, care and society. SCADR Director, Professor Chris Dibben, explains “The Covid-19 pandemic has required information and analysis at unprecedented speeds. For some emerging questions there has been no existing source of information. SCADR, using its deep understanding of existing administrative data systems, has worked with colleagues across many organisations to identify novel ways of identifying key indicators and societal structures to help address these questions.”

One example of our developing research in this area is better understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the care home population, led by Dr David Henderson. This is a key demographic where publicly available data sources do not provide a clear picture and more detailed analysis is needed to fully comprehend what has been happening and to better inform policy.

We will contribute to this work in Scotland by utilising the COVID-19 data holding to describe the characteristics of the population affected by the virus in ways that haven’t been available previously. In particular, the availability of primary care data and new methods of identifying care home residents in linked datasets are novel sources of information that can increase our understanding.

COVID-19 has also placed unprecedented restrictions on our civil liberties and freedom of movement. Our Safer Communities Lead, Professor Susan McVie, is part of an Independent Advisory Group (IAG) to review the temporary policing powers that were introduced to ensure that members of the public complied with the new Coronavirus Regulations in an effort to save lives. The IAG recognised the importance of ensuring that such powers should be scrutinised and Susan has played a significant role in ensuring a data-driven approach underpins this process. Her first data report presented a wealth of evidence based on analysis of various policing datasets. The analysis demonstrated that, despite concern about people breaching the Regulations, the police largely relied on engagement and encouragement to ensure compliance, resorting only in extreme cases to the use of enforcement. The data also showed distinct changes in demand for policing during lockdown, including increases in noise complaints, neighbour disputes and general public nuisance, with reductions in road traffic incidents, assaults and theft; and yet police response remained high and the level of complaints to the police did not increase.

The findings from the report were presented to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Board in June and discussed further at a webinar in July where senior members of the SPA and Police Scotland highlighted the value of data and evidence in supporting scrutiny and evaluation. Susan continues to support the work of the IAG and her second data report is due to be published shortly.

This summary blog, highlights just some of our emerging research responding to Covid-19. Over time, administrative data provides a vital source in which to explore the longer term effects of the pandemic on society, such as on employment and educational outcomes, and can play an important part in informing an evidence-based recovery.

This article was published on 12 Aug 2020

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Chris Dibben