How It Works

What is data linkage?

Data linkage is the joining of two or more administrative or survey datasets. Administrative data are collected and maintained as part of an administration system. Data linkage allows for a wealth of information to be brought together to answer a research question or produce statistics, that could not be done using a single data set.

Data linkage is undertaken within a controlled environment to ensure that the research carried out is legal, ethical, secure and efficient. It is important to note that data is only linked for the duration of an approved project, following which the links are broken. Linked data are not stored indefinitely.
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How are data linked?

Scotland does not have a single database containing all administrative and survey data and there is no intention to create one. Instead, data are collected and held by individual organisations, for example NHS Boards, local authorities and other public bodies, as part of their statutory functions.
SILC partners will only bring together data from different organisation for clearly specified research and statistical purposes if it is in the public interest to do so. All data controllers involved in a project must approve the linkage of the data they are responsible for before it can be used. Only the minimum amount of data are linked to answer the specific research or policy question or to produce statistics.

The links between the data are broken as soon as is practical and in accordance with the data controllers’ instructions and only ‘approved researchers’ can access the linked data.

At every step of the linkage process, due consideration is given to the responsible handling of data. As a result, the process of linking data can be complex and takes time. A number of safeguards are in place to ensure privacy is addressed throughout the data linkage process, including:

Statistical disclosure control
Proportionate risk management
Separation of functions

How is linked data accessed?

Controlled data access points have been developed to ensure that only approved researchers who have the necessary training can access linked data in a controlled environment. To achieve this, computing resources are located at a number of secure locations across Scotland. Approved researchers can access data from a secure access point within a designated room (called a safe haven) at an approved institution (for example SILC). Some of these access terminals, including those at SILC, have video surveillance facilities to monitor researchers while they use the data. Approved researchers may also be able to access data remotely from a PC using a secure virtual private network. The decision relating to whether the researcher is required to be in an observed environment or has remote access rests with the contributing data controllers.