Five ways we're improving researchers' experiences of accessing administrative data

To encourage researchers to use administrative data for research in the public interest, we need to provide easier ways for them to do so and remove barriers in their way.   

Administrative data, and the routes to using it, can be complex. While some of these complexities play an important and necessary role in safeguarding data – such as the Five Safes Framework – there are also some issues we can address to enable more researchers to use administrative data more effectively. This will help us maximise the value of the public’s data in benefiting society.   

Here are five ways we’re improving researchers’ journeys to accessing administrative data:

1. Making ADR UK datasets easier to find and understand

This year, we launched the ADR UK Data Catalogue, an online platform where researchers can discover the growing collection of administrative datasets available for public good research. Potential users of the data can browse the catalogue and find information like the coverage, the data dictionary, and access requirements to determine if a dataset meets their needs. The ADR UK website also contains new pages on ADR UK flagship datasets – datasets of wide appeal and significant research value. These online tools are making it easier for researchers to explore our offer and determine whether it meets their needs.  

The ADR UK Data Catalogue provides a new platform for researchers to discover our datasets and learn more about what they can do.

2. Building support for researchers to use these datasets


Alongside making datasets available for research, teams across the ADR UK partnership develop supporting materials to help researchers access, understand and use the data. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has developed a visual guide to a researcher’s journey in accessing a dataset. They have also developed enhanced dataset materials this year, including an ethics self-assessment form, guidance on submitting a project to the Research Accreditation Panel, and user guides and data dictionaries for all ADR England flagship datasets.   

Data Explained publications have provided further support for researchers this year, with ADR Scotland publishing their first on the Looked After Children dataset. These dataset specific publications are authored by early users of a dataset, and share their lessons learned and advice for data owners and future users.   

We're developing and sharing materials to help researchers access, understand and use ADR UK datasets. 

3. Developing tools and resources for research

ADR UK partners have contributed to the development of tools and resources that support researchers to use administrative data. For example, ADR Wales has worked in partnership with Health Data Research UK to continue development of their Phenotype Library, an open resource for researchers using Electronic Health Records to share their methods.   

This year has seen further exploration of the potential of low-fidelity synthetic data – a version of a dataset that resembles the real data but does not include any information about real individuals. Synthetic data can be a valuable tool for researchers in understanding a dataset, developing code and refining their research questions. Driving this work forward has included the launch of a funding opportunity around operationalising the scaled production and sharing of synthetic data, and the publication of our interim position statement on synthetic data.  

ADR UK is exploring resources that can support more effective research use of administrative datasets, such as low-fidelity synthetic data.

4. Upskilling researchers to use administrative data

ADR UK’s Training and Capacity Building Strategy has come into its own this year. The strategy outlines our objective to build the capacity and capability of researchers trained to analyse complex linked administrative datasets. In December 2022, ADR UK announced 20 PhD studentship opportunities to be hosted by supervisors across Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral Training Partnerships. These studentships will focus on using ADR UK flagship datasets to answer policy-relevant questions, equipping a new cohort of early career researchers with the experience of using administrative data for public good research.   

This year has also seen the launch of ADR UK’s online Learning Hub – a platform for courses and resources for researchers to develop their skills. This will make learning opportunities more findable and accessible for researchers who want to enhance their ability to use administrative data. It includes a wide variety of resources such as on coding and understanding data linkage, as well as signposting to a host of course providers.   

The Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research delivered its Introduction to Data Science for Administrative Data Research Course in March 2023, which covers practical considerations, methodological approaches, and challenges, as well as providing hands-on experience working with synthetic data. The online course will run again in October 2023, with plans for a modular design allowing participants to select the content that is relevant to their research. Meanwhile, ADR Northern Ireland has identified a gap in training provision for researchers around public engagement and involvement. Plans are in development to pilot training that supports researchers with both a theoretical grounding and practical skills.  

From PhD studentship opportunities to an online learning hub, we're building the capacity of researchers to conduct policy-relevant research using administrative data. 

5. Funding researchers to use ADR UK datasets 

We have continued to support a growing cohort of ADR UK Research Fellows using ADR England datasets this year. These fellows are exploring a variety of policy-relevant topics, from interventions in the criminal justice system to the experiences of immigrant workers. Since our previous annual report, we have onboarded a further 12 ADR UK Research Fellows while continuing to support those completing their projects.   

We have also launched a new round of funding for research using newly available ADR England flagship datasets, including de-identified education data linked to child health records, and a cross-justice system linkage. As well as providing support to the fellows themselves, in funding these opportunities we are enabling research that demonstrates the value and potential of our datasets, to encourage and support the next researchers to use them.  

ADR UK Research Fellows are using administrative data to generate powerful insights for the benefit of the public.