Administrative Data Research UK: creating the data pathway to evidence-informed policy making

26 February 2024


Administrative Data Research UK: creating the data pathway to evidence-informed policy making

Reported by Shervin MirzaeiGhazi, CSaP Policy Intern

Dr Emma Gordon, Director of the ADR UK Strategic Hub and Director of ADR England, joined the CSaP online seminar series on ‘Data for Policy Making: Challenges and Opportunities’ to explain how ADR (Administrative Data Research) is involved in making data more accessible for policy making.

As Dr Gordon explained, any policy that can solve social problems and answer societal needs must be based on strong evidence. Data provides a rich source of evidence, but there are two main issues regarding how it is used in policy making. Firstly, it is expensive and time-consuming to make data ready for use as evidence. Secondly, it is often the case that researchers’ focus and the government's evidential needs for making policy do not match, and this makes it more difficult for governments to use data produced by researchers.

ADR can solve both problems by facilitating access to de-identified administrative data for research purposes across the United Kingdom. According to the ADR website:

“Administrative data is information created when people interact with public services, such as schools, the NHS, the courts or the benefits system, and collated by government.”

ADR engages in different activities: it provides researchers with access to various administrative datasets, such as those from government departments, agencies, and public bodies. These datasets cover a wide range of areas, including education, health, crime, employment, and social services.

It also offers support to researchers, including training, guidance, and technical assistance, to help them navigate the complexities of using administrative data for research purposes. This all aims to ensure that research conducted using these datasets is high quality and adheres to legal and ethical standards. Last but not least, ADR UK operates within a framework of governance and ethics to ensure that the use of administrative data for research purposes is conducted responsibly, with appropriate safeguards in place to protect individual privacy and confidentiality.

During her presentation, Dr Gordon drew on several case studies that demonstrated the importance of research in evidence-informed policy making. For example, in New Zealand, researchers were able to illustrate the role that education had in reducing health and social inequalities by checking the administrative data of 1.7 million New Zealanders. Analysis of this data revealed that there is a correlation between societal inequalities and health inequalities. It has been illustrated that 5% of the population accounted for 20% of governmental health and social costs. These people face problems that reduce their ‘workforce-readiness’, such as leaving secondary school without qualifications. The researchers concluded that:

“Investing in young people’s education/training potential could reduce health and social inequalities and enhance population wellbeing”.

The same process of using administrative data for promoting public goods was used in different projects like ‘LEO data’ and ‘ECHILD’. LEO data which stands for 'Longitudinal Education Outcomes' is a rich source of data created by linking different datasets from multiple departments, such as the 'National Pupil Database', and 'Individual Learner Record Data'. This linked data is then used in the ECHILD project to show that children who have been born even a few weeks earlier than the full gestation period (40 weeks), had problems reaching expected attainment levels and probably need more help, compared to the children born after 40 weeks.

Dr Gordon explained that ADR worked with the Ministry of Justice, in the ‘Data First’ program, to make sense of their data before opening it up for research use. ADR was motivated to fund this project because they believed it had long-term research value.

Dr Gordon left a final message with participants, explaining that while various interests did not want to participate in data sharing because of perceived difficulties, now that the general model is in place, evidence sharing can be better utilised for decision-making in policy related domains.

Image by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Shervin MirzaeiGhazi

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge