Defining the Public Good in Applications to Access Public Data

28 May 2021
Last updated:
7 June 2021


The primary aim of this research was to gain insight into how the public good of statistics is conceptualised by applicants to the NSDEC and the RAP. The analysis demonstrated that there was more of a focus on public benefits which relate to providing an evidence base for policy or improving policy decisions for the benefit of society. This may reflect the fact that applicants feel their work will have more impact, or more chance of success, if their work has policy implications. The fact that one of the least mentioned public benefits was further official statistics (when one of the most mentioned was improving statistics) may suggest that applicants are perhaps unclear about the distinction between official statistics and statistics but further research is required to understand if this is the case.

Extend understanding was not as frequently mentioned as the public benefits which related to policy, even though it could be argued that this is a benefit that all the research could provide. Perhaps researchers applying to the NSDEC and RAP do not see this as a priority for them, or for the panel, committee, or data owner.

Applications on the topic of health more frequently referred to service delivery and societal benefit, in contrast to applications on the topic of children, population, and business, which more frequently mentioned policy decisions.  There were too few applications on the topic of the environment may raise the question about the public data which is available on the topic of the environment, or whether there is perhaps less interest from researchers in the data which is available.

Looking further into applications, qualitative research demonstrated that researchers also conceptualise the public good in terms of benefiting public funds, or improving public spending decisions, as well as providing more granular regional information. Lastly, a number of the applications described how their research plans would serve the public good by facilitating research collaborations and improving data linkage.

There are limitations in this work due to the relatively small numbers of applications analysed and the fact that these are applications to access data rather than explicit accounts of what the public good means to researchers. However, the study sheds light on the focus of applicants, the intentions behind their work to serve public good, and develops the understanding for the Research Programme in the Office for Statistics Regulation about what the public good means to researchers.

This report had the objectives of identifying themes in the work of applicants and identifying examples for how statistics is actively serving the public good, which has been achieved through the numerous insights found through the qualitative and quantitative research. It has also highlighted the awareness of the importance of data linkage for the applicants to the NSDEC and RAP process, as some refer to the potential of more collaborative work and further data linkage still to come should their applications be successful.

The final longer-term goal of this report is to help stakeholders understand how applicants approach the question of the public good served by their work, which will be achieved through the dissemination of these findings. It is hoped that these findings may contribute towards a greater understanding of which public benefits could be considered by a wider range of researchers who could benefit from data sharing.

Back to top
Download PDF version (315.74 KB)