Administrative Data Research Centres 2018

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Centre for Public Health


There is great potential for understanding more about our society through better use of data that already exists and by linking different datasets together. Using existing data is not only efficient and cheaper than collecting new data, but it can also provide a powerful means to consider what action is needed to tackle a wide range of social issues, guiding the development, implementation and evaluation of government policies. This can be achieved in a way that ensures that the public have the maximum confidence that their data are being used appropriately and that the safeguards of these data meet the highest international standards.

The Administrative Data Research Centre (ARDC) in Northern Ireland (NI) comprises the two universities and NISRA, the local governmental statistics agency. Over the last five years, in collaboration with government bodies and the voluntary and community sectors, the widened access to administrative datasets in Northern Ireland, has enabled us to undertake a range of research projects that have informed government and public services. We have also greatly increased the number of researchers both in academia and government able to manage and analyse these large and complex datasets required to undertake this type of research.

While our primary objective for the ADRC over the next 30 months will be to maintain the confidence of the different publics in the use of administrative data for research, our renewed focus will be to build on our work in fostering commitment from Government in NI and throughout the UK to an increased access to and use of administrative data. This will help us maximise the potential of administrative data as a rich resource for evidence-based policy making and evaluation. Our emphasis in this short period will be the rapid delivery of targeted, high impact research-related activities essential to data custodians. To do so, we will extend the use of administrative data that is available and accessible. Importantly, we will continue to strengthen the impact of our research portfolio through more focused knowledge exchange activities. In collaboration with our NISRA partners, we will engage with data custodians ensuring that we take into account their priorities in the policy process cycle and that our research activities in this period are focussed on the timely delivery towards NI Government objectives.

We will also undertake a modest portfolio of world-class research projects at both NI and UK level that quickly demonstrates to respective data owners the utility and potential policy impact of using administrative data for research. Within NI, the ADRC and NISRA, will help develop Strategic Impact Programmes (SIP), prioritising the needs of the different Government departments and informing the NI Program for Government (PfG). Each of the SIPs will be accompanied by focused knowledge exchange packages co-designed and delivered by the data custodians.

A major objective for the ADRC will be to demonstrate to Whitehall Departments the potential utility of their administrative data. We will therefore continue to develop large multipurpose research datasets under the 'Growing Old' Themed Partnership and undertake a series of research programmes addressing the Areas of Research Interest (ARI) that set out the most important research questions facing the collaborating UK Government Departments. We will also contribute to the development and delivery of the wider pan-UK research agenda arising from the Strategic Hub.

Planned Impact

ESRC has identified in the Service Design Framework for Administrative Data Research over the 2018,-2021 period, that data owners and government organisations are the primary intended beneficiaries of the Centre. This is so that the benefits of widened access to administrative data are demonstrated in relation to the proximal priorities of data owners in order to foster productive data sharing relationships over the long term. Other beneficiaries will include the different publics and civil society at large and although secondary in nature we need to maintain our transparency about the activity and outputs to ensure that the ADRP continues to benefit from the social licence it operates under.

The ADRC concurs with the SDF with a focus on both local (NI-level) and UK-level (mainly Whitehall) data owners. However, the need to deliver impactful research within a relatively short timeframe necessitates building Programme for Government (PfG)-related Strategic Impact Programmes (SIPs) around data that are readily available so initial impact is likely to be greatest for these data owners. The ADRC will also be undertaking a body of research that will use ONS, DWP and HMRC data with the aim of contributing to the Areas of Research Interest of these organisations.

The ADRP requirements will require an intensification of our previous endeavours in NI over the last 5 years, which have already changed the attitudes and willingness of individual departments within Government to make their administrative data available for research. NI has had notable success in increasing access to such data and Departments here increasingly perceive the ADRC as a valuable potential resource for addressing their research and policy needs.

The ADRC, in collaboration with our National Statistical Agency (NISRA) and building on their extensive Government links, will help key policy and decision-makers within NI Government Departments formulate and prioritise a research agenda (SIP) that will inform the PfG. It is anticipated that much of this work will have been completed by the end of 2018. This process will be a partnership with data owners engaged and participating across the entire research journey from design to delivery. The aim is to validate Departmental buy-in by producing research outputs that quickly demonstrate the utility of using linked administrative data to generate new knowledge in PfG-related areas. This will be aided by increased opportunity for data owner and researcher interaction through the Administrative Data Forum, Data Workshops and User Group.

All of these activities will be underpinned by a series of targeted knowledge exchange activities led by the ADRC Policy Champion bringing researchers, policymakers and significant stakeholders together to enhance the potential for impact of the research. These will include project-specific events for relevant data owners and more general dissemination events targeted at senior cross-Departmental groups to showcase the benefits of administrative data research to a wider audience. We also plan to hold a series of topic specific symposia related to completed, ongoing and scheduled research work packages both in NI and England. The ADRC will also utilise existing institutional structures designed to maximise engagement with the machinery of Government. These include Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS), an innovation that brings academic findings directly to Assembly members; hosting and providing briefings to specific Assembly Committees and disseminating and promoting research to key policy makers through an All-Party Parliamentary Group.

ADRC will also strive for continued public participation in all aspects of the research processes and we will continue to engage with the publics, such as the Commissioners offices, and voluntary and community organisations, who have an enormous potential to influence decision makers within government.


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