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Access Research Knowledge on Northern Ireland's social issues

You can now access over 15 years of social information on Northern Ireland from the Detail Data Portal.
Image credits: Ciaran McGuiggan

Access Research Knowledge is a collaborative research project between Queen's and Ulster University, established in 2000. The ARK vision is to make social science information on Northern Ireland available to the widest possible audience.

In addition to numerous other projects, the ARK team undertake annual surveys of Northern Ireland's population, with questionnaires covering a wide range of social and political issues.

The mainstay of these is the Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) Survey, which samples a random selection of adults in NI households each year. This generates a huge source of information on the beliefs, values and opinions of people in Northern Ireland. NILT has been in place since 1998, and ARK have added surveys of children at the end of primary education for the Kids' Life and Times Survey, and sixteen-year-olds for the Young Life and Times Survey.

One major aim of each of the surveys is to make the data collected freely available to everyone for free, and the results of each survey are available within 6 months from the end of the fieldwork. The most recent NILT survey was carried out from September to the end of 2014, and the results were made available in June 2015.

The ARK team have made their datasets available on their website in SPSS format, the statistical software of choice for many social researchers. But we're aware that licences for SPSS software are expensive, especially for many community and voluntary groups, and researchers with limited budgets.

That's why we have worked with the ARK team to reformat their datasets into Comma-Separated Value (CSV) format, meaning that they can be used on a wide-range of popular programs, such as Excel and Google Docs, and open-source software like OpenOffice and R. CSV scores three stars three star open Web data on Tim Berners-Lee's 5★ open data plan, as it is structured (like SPSS) but also non-proprietary (no need for licensed software to use).

You can now find the data from each of the Life and Times surveys on the Detail Data Portal:

Thanks to having a greater level of access to these datasets, organisations and researchers in the community and voluntary sector will be able to investigate social issues that concern their area of work. This will help in detecting changes in social attitudes, perceptions of problems and challenges in their communities, designing services to suit client needs, and using evidence to support applications for funded projects.

The ARK team are interested in how the findings and the datasets from their numerous surveys are used, and so would be very grateful if you would let ARK know how you have put them to use. In particular, copies or links to reports or articles are very welcome. Citation information is included with each set of survey data. You can also contact Detail Data with any technical issues using the datasets.

* Importantly, because NILT is a survey of individuals taken from a household sample, users should apply weighted variables to adjust for household size. We've written an easy to follow guide covering how to do this if you're using the NILT datasets on the Detail Data Portal. Because the Kids' and Young Life & Times Surveys are surveys of individuals rather than households, there is no need to apply weighting to them.