UK Data Service Data Impact Fellows: Sarah Knight

sarah knight

We are delighted to announce Sarah Knight as one of our UK Data Service Data Impact Fellows. Sarah is a PhD student in the Environment Department of the University of York, discusses her research examining the impact of natural environments on subjective well-being in the UK. Sarah introduces her research and her approach to impact.

I’m a current third year PhD student funded by the ESRC White Rose DTC. I am based in the Environment Department at the University of York alongside all the ducks and geese that this campus has to offer.  I have a background in spatial analysis and geographical information systems (GIS), using quantitative and qualitative methods to explore environmental issues. I’m interested in environmental conservation, valuing nature, ecology, human health and well-being and environmental psychology.  As you can see, the nature of my subject and my interests are inherently interdisciplinary.  I particularly enjoy working on issues that are complex and involve a multi-faceted approach, and I believe that most current environmental issues will only be solved in this way.

Natural places with high levels of environmental quality have always been considered restorative for people but evidence to support this has only recently started to grow. As part of my PhD I am examining the impact of natural environments on subjective well-being in the UK. More specifically I am looking at how changes in environmental quality influence an individual’s self-reported life satisfaction.

My aim is to spatially link longitudinal panel datasets with environmental data to explore the impact of the natural environment and environmental quality on life satisfaction and well-being. This has significance for health, well-being and environmental policy-making both in urban and rural areas, and contributes to the environmental quality and greenspace literature regarding the impacts of nature on human well-being.

Currently I’m using data from Understanding Society and the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) available to download from the UK Data Service.  These are longitudinal panel datasets that repeatedly ask the same individuals the same (and additional) questions through time, following them geographically wherever they move to. Individuals are asked about their social and economic circumstances, attitudes, behaviours and health so these datasets provide a fascinating insight into the lives of adults in the UK.

I am using the location identifiers of individuals in these datasets to link them with other freely available environmental, demographic and socio-economic data. These large governmental datasets also change through time and across space and include air quality measurements, Indices of Multiple Deprivation, and major road traffic counts. Using multi-dimensional data like this, which is clustered spatially is a fantastic way of combining survey data with other existing secondary data sources and is helping to improve our understanding of causality between human well-being and the environment.  My approach has the potential to highlight geographies and/or demographics that are more affected by changes in their physical and ecological environment.

One of the key benefits to using Understanding Society and the BHPS is that the participants provide answers without knowing they will be used to explore impacts of the natural environment. This means that their answers are unlikely to be affected by bias in this respect, a common problem with surveys conducted with this intention. Another advantage of using these datasets is that they include a large number of individuals; Understanding Society includes over 50,000 adults in the UK, that’s huge!

I am committed to enhancing research impact and to take advantage of all opportunities to increase the impact that my work may offer, be it academic, economic, educational or societal.  In my research area that explores the environmental determinants of well-being there is a real need for evidence that uses longitudinal and high resolution spatial data. I believe my work will make a real scientific contribution to method and application in my field. I hope my work will also advance understanding across the fields of environmental quality and human well-being.

I am keen to seek further engagement with my data providers, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Office of National Statistics (ONS). I also plan to engage with different public groups to disseminate my findings, to collect feedback on methods and approaches, to identify future research questions and to elicit further quantitative and qualitative data.  Public groups will include the general public, specific publics such as local school children or those suffering with poor health (I am currently planning work with a local charity), and local businesses who are involved in air quality management, environmental protection and town planning.  My current plan is to work locally, but my air quality findings indicate larger urban areas may be a very interesting place to conduct public participatory work as these experience the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution.

I am also dedicated to capacity development, teaching and training.  I currently run a GIS group at the University of York to enable learning and networking across departments and am passionate about developing this further with staff, students and fellow GIS specialists across the land!

Overall I am excited to be a Data Impact Fellow with the UK Data Service and look forward to developing my research impact over the next two years in the scheme!

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