Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Step-by-step guide to accessing SLS data

In this section we explain how to access the data step by step. The same process is required for all projects, regardless of whether the data will be accessed remotely or in the safe-setting. Some pilot work to test whether a particular research question is feasible may be possible and this can be discussed – please contact us to discuss.

Note – Existing researchers who wish to extend their project to include the new 2011 Census data should complete the new shorter SLS extension form (Word 147kB). This cut-down form is only applicable if the research question and type of variables have not altered significantly since your original application.  All new or significantly altered projects should apply via the standard process below.

1. Formulate your research question

You should explore this website, and particularly the data dictionary, to see whether the SLS is appropriate for your research question, and you may find it helpful to contact us to discuss your ideas. It might also be useful to investigate existing SLS projects and outputs.

2. Contact the SLS helpdesk

If you decide you are interested in using the SLS please contact our helpdesk, (we will respond within a 5 day timescale) or get in touch with CALLS Hub. After discussing your project you will be allocated a Support Officer who will work with you to further develop your ideas. Your project will be allocated a project number at this point.

3. Attend a training session

We strongly encourage all users to attend one of our training sessions, which are held twice a year. Depending on timing, it may be inconvenient for some users to wait for a training session prior to starting their project, and so it is not obligatory to attend one of these sessions. For information on the next training session to be held visit our Events section.

In addition, all researchers wishing to use NHS ISD data in their analyses are required to complete a SHIP-approved training course. Currently there is one option, though we hope to have other options available soon:

4. Complete an application form

Once you have discussed your project in detail with your Support Officer, you must download and complete an Application Form (Word 572kB). In this form you will be asked to provide information about your proposed research including a list of the variables you require. If you wish to link your own data to the SLS this must also be detailed.

All new researchers are now required to attain Approved Researcher status by completing the SLS Approved Researcher Application Form (Word 898kB).

If you wish to use health data from NHS NSS (formerly ISD) you must also complete an application form for submission to the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel (PBPP) through your Support Officer.

You may also be required to seek ethical approval from your own organisation.

5. Gain approval from the SLS Research Board

Once the final version of the application form has been returned to your Support Officer, it will then be submitted to the SLS Research Board. This board will assess whether your project should be supported and may provide some advice on how it could be improved. The Research Board includes representatives from the SLS team and other major data suppliers (see SLS Governance ).

Approval usually takes around 6-8 weeks.  Only once approval is granted by both the SLS Research Board and all appropriate ethical boards can you proceed.

6. Complete an SLS undertaking form

An SLS Undertaking Form (Word 65kB) must be signed by you and any collaborators with whom you are working. The form covers disclosure, confidentiality and ethical issues relating to your project to ensure you are aware of your responsibilities when using SLS data. At this point you should also familiarise yourself with the  SLS Disclosure Control Protocol (PDF 1MB)

No access will be permitted to SLS data or outputs for anyone who has not signed the Undertaking Form. 

7. Dataset creation

Once the project has been approved and a completed Undertaking Form returned, the Support Officer will ask the Database Manager to create your own user-specific subset of the SLS. The creation of this dataset may involve some dialogue between the researcher and Support Officer in order to meet your requirements. If you have data of your own to link into the dataset this should be provided to your Support Officer. Your Support Officer will inform you when your dataset is ready for you to use.

8. Analysis

As described in Methods for accessing SLS data the analysis may involve remote access or direct access in the safe-setting. Our computers have standard statistical software such as SPSS, SAS, R and Stata. If you require any specialist software please discuss this with your Support Officer and it may be possible to have it installed in the safe-setting.

9. Data clearance & disclosure checks

After running your analyses (or having them run remotely), your output files must be cleared by the SLS team before they can be released to you. Researchers are asked to familiarise themselves with the SLS Disclosure Control Protocol (PDF 1MB) and to allow time at each safe-setting visit to review their own output requests. By focusing on requesting only important outputs and scanning these for potentially disclosive results, the process is facilitated and you will receive your cleared outputs more rapidly.

Following clearance, output files are encrypted and emailed to the researcher. Check with your Support Officer which software will be used for encryption.

10. Publishing & presenting results

If you wish to disseminate your SLS results beyond your project team and its named associates you must obtain final output clearance from the SLS Data Custodian, using the SLS Final Outputs Clearance Form (Word 909kB).

This procedure covers all forms of dissemination including working papers, theses, posters, conference abstracts and presentations, reports and journal articles. You should allow 15 working days for output clearance, although many outputs are cleared more quickly than this.

The process for clearing final outputs protects the SLS by reducing the risk of disclosure, ensuring that the study and data are properly described and ensuring that the data have been used appropriately. Key criteria are:

      • The results and discussion do not raise confidentiality or disclosure issues.
      • The SLS is described correctly.
      • The legend ‘Source: Scottish Longitudinal Study’ is added to tables and figures wherever appropriate.
      • The support of the LSCS is acknowledged using this disclaimer:

“The help provided by staff of the Longitudinal Studies Centre – Scotland (LSCS) is acknowledged. The LSCS is supported by the ESRC/JISC, the Scottish Funding Council, the Chief Scientist’s Office and the Scottish Government. The authors alone are responsible for the interpretation of the data. Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.”

Once your final output has been cleared for public release you may disseminate it a number of times without resubmitting it for clearance, as long as tables or figures are unchanged and there is no new discussion of SLS processes.

11. Notify the SLS team of all outputs

We ask all researchers to notify the SLS Support Team whenever work drawing on your SLS analyses is published. We maintain a database of all published SLS-based research (see Outputs ) which is important in ensuring future funding for the SLS-DSU.

Explore the variables held in the SLS data dictionary.

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