Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Step-by-step guide to accessing SLS data

COVID19 – The SLS-DSU is still open to receive new applications

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 should complete the SLS-Project-Extension-Form-v5 (Word 164KB). 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, (see what data are included) 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 for using all 3 LS studies get in touch with CALLS Hub. After discussing the initial feasibility of your project idea with the NRS SLS Project Manager, 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 ‘Introduction to the SLS’ 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.

4. Complete an application form

Once you have discussed your project in detail with your Support Officer, you must download and complete an SLS-Application-Form-v5.8 (Word 348KB). In this form you will be asked to provide information about your proposed research including a list of the variables you require. Please log into the online SLS Data Dictionary to easily download this list along with the restriction level.  If you wish to link your own data to the SLS this must also be detailed.

5. Complete an SLS undertaking form

An SLS Undertaking Form (Word 68KB) 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.  If you are applying to use synthetic data in your research project a Synthetic Data Undertaking Form (Word 80KB) will need to be signed by you and your collaborators. At this point you should also familiarise yourself with the SDC Protocol V1.0 (Feb 2019) (PDF 166KB) and the SDC Guidance V1.0 (Feb 2019) (PDF 426KB).

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

6. Attain SLS Approved Researcher Status

All new researchers are now required to attain Approved Researcher status by completing the SLS Approved Researcher Application (Word 205KB).  In addition, for researchers undertaking postgraduate studies a Student Accreditation Form (Word 893KB) must be completed by your supervisor.

As part of becoming an SLS Approved Researcher, researchers are required to complete suitable Information Governance training.  The current course accredited by SLS for anyone working directly with the SLS data is the Safe Researcher Training (SRT).  This course is run in England by ONS or in Edinburgh by the SCADR team.

(please note that the ONS Approved Researcher status is separate from the SLS Approved Researcher status – see ONS Approved Researcher Scheme

7. Applying for NHS Data

If you wish to use health data from NHS health data you must also complete an application form for submission to the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel (PBPP) through your Support Officer and an eDRIS Research Coordinator. For your convenience, we have prepared a Part-filled PBPP-Application-form (Word 107KB) which corresponds to PBPP Application Form v3.2-April 2020 on the PBPP website.  More information on completing the PBPP application form can be found in the Guidance-for-Applicants-v3.6 (Word 101KB) or on the PBPP website.

You are required to seek ethical approval from your own organisation.

For information on getting started with health data and what is available for research use please look at the online Health and Social Care Data Dictionary and this NHS Catalogues Pack (PDF 10MB)

8. 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 reviewed by the NRS SLS Project Manager who may have final questions ahead of submitting to the SLS Research Board (this process can take up to 2 weeks). The SLS Research 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 all the other major data suppliers (see SLS Governance ).

Approval from the board usually takes around 6-8 weeks.  Only once approval is granted by both the SLS Research Board and all appropriate approvals are in place can you proceed. No access will be permitted to SLS data or outputs for anyone who has not signed the Undertaking Form. 

9. Dataset creation

Once the project has been approved by the SLS Research Board and a completed Undertaking Form returned, the SLS 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. Typically, after a request for extraction this process takes 2-4 weeks.  Please note that all SLS data extracts are initially provided with labels in either Stata or SPSS. We do have Stat Transfer available to switch formats to R or SAS if it would be problematic to read in Stata/SPSS extracts.

10. Analysis

As described in Methods for accessing SLS data currently the analysis may involve visiting the NRS Safe Setting room and working alongside SLS-DSU staff, being provided with a synthetic version of your main (wide version) dataset to work on remotely (for more info please synthetic data) or towards the end of a project remote submitting syntax files (command files) to run models. Our computers have standard statistical software such as SPSS and Stata, along with Word, Excel and notepad. If you require any specialist software please discuss this with SLS-DSU staff and it may be possible to have it installed in the Safe Setting; for example we also offer R but this is not officially supported by SLS-DSU staff. We also have installed, but again do not officially support, SAS and Matlab – the licenses for these 2 packages expire soon so please discuss with SLS-DSU staff as it may be possible to bring your own licence to work within the Safe Setting once our University of Edinburgh licence expires.

11. 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 SDC Protocol V1.0 (Feb 2019) (PDF 166KB) and SDC Guidance V1.0 (Feb 2019) (PDF 426KB) – which you will need to sign.  Please allow time at each safe-setting visit to review your 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.

12. 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 Final Outputs Clearance Request Form V5 (Word 316KB). This has to be completed for every Final Output (including reuse of charts for talks in PPT or revised versions of journal papers to ensure the SLS is reported correctly and results not misinterpreted). Final Outputs are all listed online at http://sls.lscs.ac.uk/outputs/

This procedure covers all forms of dissemination including working papers, theses, posters, conference abstracts and presentations, reports and journal articles. For the time being, the minimum period to clear Final Outputs is 20 working days as outputs will need to be reviewed by SLS-DSU staff before being approved by a NRS member of staff as NRS Data Custodian in the absence of our Project Manager.  In addition, Intermediate Outputs will require a minimum of 10 working days for clearance.   

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.”

13. 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.

Recent News

Upcoming Events

Events feed unavailable

Latest SLS Tweets