Barriers and facilitators of cross-sectoral data linkage to inform healthy public policy and practice: lessons from three case study projects in Scotland.

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Kristina Cimova
David Henderson
Mirjam Allik
Denise Brown
Petra Meier
Charlie Mayor
Nick Watson
Peter Craig
Emily Tweed


We sought to describe barriers and facilitators faced by three research projects aiming to link routinely-collected data across various sectors, to produce evidence to inform healthy public policy. We conducted these case studies as a part of a wider research project on cross-sectoral sharing and linkage of secondary data.

We selected the case studies to cover a range of target populations and datasets. The chosen projects investigated (1) the health of care-experienced children; (2) the intersection of homelessness, justice involvement, drug use, and severe mental illness; (3) multi-morbidity among adults receiving social care. Information about timelines and governance processes was collected from lead investigators, including specific barriers and facilitators encountered, using a standardised pro forma and follow-up interviews. Thematic analysis was carried out by the research team, informed by themes identified in a parallel scoping review of existing literature on evidence use for healthy public policy and practice.

Each project involved between 6 and 11 agencies, with co-ordination across multiple institutions and geographies proving challenging. Due to challenges encountered, all projects had to amend their original geographical or demographic scope. Forty-four barriers and facilitators to sharing and linkage of cross-sectoral routinely-collected data for public health research were identified. These included but were not limited to: integration of current data in an ever-changing linkage landscape; the need for timely feedback in undertaking the study; standardisation of information governance processes; highlighting the resourcing and funding issues for data linkage projects; the need for data controllers to recognise the value of such projects; and issues relating to staff turnover and workload pressures.

The interconnected nature of barriers and facilitators identified by the case studies suggests the importance of a whole-systems approach to cross-sectoral linkage. While literature offers relatively few case studies of cross-sectoral linkage for health research, the value of their insight into the linkage landscape derived from real-life experience is substantial.

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How to Cite
Cimova, K., Henderson, D., Allik, M., Brown, D., Meier, P., Mayor, C., Watson, N., Craig, P. and Tweed, E. (2022) “Barriers and facilitators of cross-sectoral data linkage to inform healthy public policy and practice: lessons from three case study projects in Scotland”., International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(3). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v7i3.2062.

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