The Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS) to 2020

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


The Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS) is a unique dataset that links together the Census from 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011 with administrative data for approximately 28% of the population. Since 2009, user access to these data have been supported by an ESRC-funded Research Support Unit. This application seeks to extend user support via this unit to 2020 and its central objectives are to take the NILS forward to the 2021 Census; to increase the number and range of users; and to increase the impact of NILS-based research. It sets out to do this with a programme of work that concentrates on the following series of activities; core functions such as maintaining the secure environment, NILS documentation, and checking user outputs but also developmental aims like promoting the impact of NILS research, increasing the capacity of researchers, advocating the linkage of 2021 Census data, exploring the linkage of other administrative data, and considering the feasibility of improving the range and quality of historical census data linkage. In doing so, it is intended that the plan will increase the value for money of the NILS and maintain the progress that has been made since its creation in 2006.

Planned Impact

Research impact essentially is about the intersection of politics, evidence and delivery. In the context of NILS high value impact is focused on increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy, and enhancing the quality of life and health. There are three main stakeholder groups with particular relevance to NILS:

1. those responsible for making decisions on policy;
2. those responsible for informing the policy process and implementing policy; and
3. those who are the recipients of policy

In the previous phase of NILS our primary impact engagement was with the second of these stakeholder groups. We achieved this through direct engagement with the Executive Office in the NI Assembly, and engagement with key officials in government departments and arms-length bodies. This resulted in mutual benefit as the focus of research agendas became tighter and more directly related to policy priorities; officials had an opportunity to inform research design and methodologies; and new and more effective means of research dissemination were developed.

In the next phase of NILS we want to extend the impact umbrella to cover all three stakeholder groups:

a. We had some level of indirect engagement with the main political parties through the KESS Seminars held in Parliament Buildings and the participation in these of Assembly officials and party political special advisers and staff. We will continue this work, but enhance it through direct engagement with the political parties, supported by the Public Engagement Office in Queen's University. The specific targets will be party spokespersons with relevant policy briefs and MLAs sitting on relevant Assembly Committees.

b. We will take a more focused approach to engaging with citizens through third sector organisations. There are a number of third sector groups which act as networks for the wider community and voluntary sector, most of whom have developed a greater appreciation of the need for policy engagement as a consequence of the Programme for Government process in Northern Ireland. The recent adoption of an Outcomes Based Accountability (OBA) model has heightened this awareness. We will build a relationship with one of the network organizations and run an annual seminar both to raise awareness of existing research outputs from NILS, but also to provide third sector organisations to contribute to the agenda-setting, design and dissemination stages of research.

c. Our direct engagement with the policy community will continue, but we are committed to exploring innovative forms of engagement and ones which, preferably, bring the different stakeholder groups together. Our initial plan is to explore a NILS Hackathon as a new approach for the identification, and cross-fertilisation, of ideas for research.

We also plan to further develop our work on the synthetic NILS, on more effective means of data sharing through secure technologies, and the development of a fast response mechanism to insert NILS findings and research in policy debates. In addition, we will explore options for using NILS data as contributors to key indicators for the OBA framework.

This enhance impact package will result in more effective public policy and, in turn, more effective service delivery, evaluation and implementation. This will also the enhancement of the quality of life and health for the wider community in Northern Ireland.
Description International Conference for Administrative Data Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk on 'Are the needs of people with mental health problems met? '
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Public Health Science Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation and talk on 'Mental health need: use of administrative data and record linkage to inform mental health policy and practice'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018