The use of ‘large scale datasets’ in UK social care research

Shereen Hussein Completed   2010


Secondary data analysis, defined as the use of existing data to address new research questions or methods, forms a cornerstone of research. Large datasets usually refer to existing data in all, or most, cases with specific characteristics; or to a large enough sample representing either a specific group or the general population. Secondary data usually include records at the individual ‘micro-level’, such as patient records, but may also refer to ‘macro-level’ records such as those related to services.

The use of existing large datasets to examine, estimate, investigate and predict specific research questions is common practice in a number of disciplines including health-related research. However, across UK social care research, the use of existing large datasets appears to be still in its infancy; although awareness of the potential of these sources to investigate new research questions is growing.


The aim of this review was to set out knowledge about current uses and applications of large datasets for research in adult social care practice.


Built on a wide-ranging search of the literature, this review discusses examples of the use of different large datasets such as the General Social Care Council, the Census, the Labour Force Survey, governmental and hospital records, as well as others in health and social care research. It focuses on the methods adopted to extract and use data from different large datasets to enable quantitative and statistical examination of the research questions considered.

It discusses the challenges associated with using large data records, which in some cases are not originally designed for specific quantitative data analysis or to answer a pre-defined research question, and illustrates various approaches adopted by researchers to extract, validate, refine and interpret results based on such data.

The review discusses the strengths and limitations of a number of large datasets currently used in research on social care in England, with examples from adult safeguarding and other areas relevant to adult social care practice.

The use of ‘large scale datasets’ in UK social care research
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