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What is data linkage?

Over the course of a lifetime, you will access many services provided by many different public sector organisations. Every time you access a service, information is recorded by the organisation, for example the date and outcome of the visit. This information supports the organisation in delivering the best possible service to you as their customer and is referred to as ‘administrative’ data.

Individual public sector organisations collect and hold a wealth of administrative data, including local authorities and NHS Boards, as they are required to do so by law as part of their statutory functions. Survey data is similarly collected and held in this manner.

Until recently, when collecting data, organisations generally gave little thought to how these data might be linked in the future. This has resulted in a distributed network of databases across Scotland, making it almost impossible to identify important relationships and trends between datasets held by different organisations.

Data linkage is a process which temporarily brings together two or more sets of administrative or survey data from different organisations to produce a wealth of information which can be used for research and statistical purposes. This allows for the true value of the data to be realised. For example, linking housing or income data to exam results data can be used to investigate the impact of socioeconomic factors on educational outcome. The findings of such studies can then be used to inform policy and service delivery, ensuring support is targeted towards those who need it most.

It is important to note that datasets from different organisations are not linked on an on-going basis.