Frequently Asked Questions

Our frequently asked questions (FAQs) cover the following topics:

What is included in CLOSER Discovery and what's not

Which studies are included in CLOSER Discovery?
The eight studies included in CLOSER Discovery are listed below. Not all of the information you need may be included in Discovery yet, as our metadata enhancement team are progressing through the legacy information. For an up-to-date list of what data collection instruments from each study are currently covered by CLOSER Discovery, please visit our Technical Wiki.
Why doesn't CLOSER Discovery hold study data?
Data access arrangements are managed by the individual studies or the UK Data Service. There are two main reasons why CLOSER Discovery does not hold study data:
  1. Protecting study members' privacy: Data protection and licensing remain the responsibility of the individual studies or the UK Data Service, ensuring study members' identities are kept anonymous. See How to access the data for more information.
  2. Consent from study members: The availability of longitudinal data is only possible with the consent of the generous study members. Consent arrangements vary from study to study, and in some cases this prevents us from making data available via a tool such as CLOSER Discovery.
Does CLOSER discovery include information on administrative records that have been linked to the studies?
Where possible, this has been included. Exact arrangements vary depending on what records are being linked to.
What does CLOSER Discovery offer that isn't already provided by the UK Data Service?
The data sets accessible via UK Data Service are large and important resources for research. There are three key features that CLOSER Discovery can help with when working with these, listed below.
  1. Descriptions on the UK Data Service are limited to 80 characters. By enabling searches on the full question text and filtering by topic, you are far more likely to find items that could be useful to you.
  2. The character limit on descriptions also restricts the context of the variable as it appears in the data set. Knowing that a question described "Have they moved?" in the UK Data Service data set is actually "Have they moved in the last 5 years?" could make a significant difference. CLOSER Discovery will give you that level of detail.
  3. Before CLOSER Discovery, the only way to determine if a variable provided enough statistical 'power' for your research was to carry out an analysis. CLOSER Discovery will allow you to preview summary statistics on the variables before you begin work.

Searching by topic

Topics are a particularly challenging part of the process of documenting historical questionnaires. It is an area we would particularly like feedback on.
What topics does CLOSER Discovery use?
You can see the complete list of topics on the CLOSER Technical Wiki Controlled Vocabularies pages. CLOSER Discovery contains information from studies traditionally considered social and biomedical. Therefore the source of these is an amalgamation of HASSET and MESH.
How many topics are linked to each question/variable?
Each question/variable has only one topic assigned to it. The topics are also grouped, so each question/variable has the topic grouping applied.
Why can't I find the topic I'm looking for?
The controlled vocabulary for topics is designed to provide a topic for every question and variable in the eight studies included. It is therefore a work in progress as long as content is being generated. Additionally, the topics will only appear if there is metadata currently linked to them. Beyond this, it may be that there is no content suitable for the topic you are looking for. In terms of browsing by topic, it is better to be inclusive rather than exclusive in the first instance. You can always refine your search as you go.
Why is an item tagged with one topic and not another?
Tagging historical metadata is an extremely challenging process. Almost every question and variable has had to be tagged manually. We also had to ensure that there were no conflicts between the topics applied to linked variables and questions. This is being achieved at scale by applying a single topic to each item only. To do this, a bespoke piece of software has been built from the ground up. There are also several ways of applying topics. A topic could be derived from the wording of the question, but this might differ from the intended research purpose of the question. This is further complicated by the fact that this is an historical project and the exact meaning of the question from either point of view may have changed over time. We welcome feedback about the topic system and how it has been applied. It is one of the most challenging aspects of the project and understanding better how the users might interact with these is very important. Please visit our feedback pages for ways to contact us.

How to access study data

How can I access data from the studies?
The exact data access arrangements vary from study to study. In general they fall into two camps: accessible via the UK Data Service and accessible via direct contact with the studies. You can see further details on the page How to access the data.
Why can't I download study data from CLOSER Discovery?
There are a number of complex reasons behind this that relate to legal, ethical and consent issues. None of the studies allow unrestricted access to the data. This is in order to protect study members. CLOSER Discovery was never envisaged as being able to manage these complex access processes and it is out of the scope of the work being undertaken. What CLOSER Discovery can do is help you better navigate those access arrangements, either by providing you with a list of variables you can request or by helping you identify what you need from large data sets with limited labelling.
Where can I find information on how variables were derived?
You will need to contact the studies individually for this information. This would require significant manual effort to make available electronically and doing so is outside of the current scope of CLOSER.
Are any of the variables weighted?
Only ALSPAC has any weighted variables. These are not currently marked and you will need to contact the study for further details.

Metadata

What is metadata?
Metadata is, simply put, data about data. It gives the data context. It describes, for example, when a given data collection wave took place and who conducted it. It describes the coverage of the data. It describes the exact questions asked and how they fit into an overall data collection instrument.
Why do researchers need metadata?
Using data without its metadata is like reading a long, complicated book with the index and glossary removed. You have most of the information you need, but not all of it. It's harder to navigate. You have the terminology, but without the definitions.
Can I use the metadata available on CLOSER discovery?
CLOSER Discovery has its own Terms of Use. If you have further questions, please contact us at closer@ucl.ac.uk. Please also see further information on our Data security and intellectual property page.
What metadata standards are being used?
The metadata in CLOSER discovery are a sub-set of the DDI Lifecycle metadata standard. This is an internationally agreed standard used by data archives and other studies across the world. You can find further information about this on the DDI Alliance website.
Why use a metadata standard?
One of the challenges of data sharing is in the formats of data and metadata. A metadata standard overcomes these by providing a single set of definitions that everyone adheres to. The more people who adopt the standard, the more useful it becomes. Standards also promote an efficient 'enter once, use multiple times' approach to data management. If information is entered in an agreed way at the start of a process, it can then be used to feed other parts of the process automatically.In longitudinal studies, for example, if the DDI Lifecycle metadata standard is adopted by studies and survey agencies, this can be used to make the transfer of questionnaires and data between these partners much more efficient and robust. For more information about metadata standards, please see the CLOSER Technical Wiki.