Research that uses already generated administrative data research has numerous public benefits. It can help to improve policies, services, and ultimately, people’s lives.
As valuable as this research can be, we prioritise the safety and security of the data that we use. Working with our Trusted Research Environments (TRE) safeguards are routinely in place to ensure not only that the data is de-identified—meaning it cannot be traced back to any specific person—but also, that only approved researchers can access the data in a secure setting.
The term administrative data refers to information collected primarily for administrative purposes (not research). This type of data is collected by government departments and other organisations for registration, transactions and record keeping, usually when delivering a service.
Data linking is a technique for creating links between data sources so that anonymised information that is thought to relate to the same person, family, place or event can be connected for research purposes. Data linking means bringing together more than one data collection in a secure environment.
ADR Wales utilises the Secure eResearch Platform (SeRP) technology installed within the Welsh Government, ADR Wales secure premises at WISERD in Cardiff University and the SAIL Databank at Swansea University to efficiently store, link and analyse the de-identified, privacy-protected administrative data required for ADR Wales research.
The enormous volume and complexity of data that is being collected by government departments, businesses and other organisations represents a significant resource within the UK which can be used to the mutual benefit of academic research, organisations and society as a whole. Using administrative data for research can help us to understand social and economic trends to help improve public services. This enables policy makers to be more effective in how they look after people’s health and wellbeing by targeting resources where they are needed most. Reusing existing data is more efficient. It speeds up the process of carrying out research on government policy and reduces the reliance on more expensive methods of collecting data such as surveys.
- This kind of research enables governments to “collect (information) once, use many times”.
- By linking administrative data from multiple sources, governments are able to plot the ‘journeys’ of different kinds of service user to explore the different ‘pathways’ they follow through a range of related services. This can help governments to identify where services could be improved.
- Linked data will enable Welsh Government to analyse the relationships between various issues that influence peoples’ lives.
- Administrative records can be used to add value to existing social survey data sets, for example by comparing health service use with self-reported health and subjective well-being.
SAIL stands for Secure Anonymised Information Linkage. SAIL Databank is a Wales-wide research resource focused on improving health, well-being and services. Its databank of anonymised data about the population of Wales is world recognised. A range of anonymised, person-based datasets are held in SAIL Databank, and, subject to safeguards and approvals, these can be anonymously linked together to address important research questions. More Q&As about SAIL Databank.
Previously SAIL Databank has primarily held administrative data on health care, births and deaths, housing and social services, data from specific trials, and some survey data such as the National Survey.
Welsh Government are working to include more Welsh Government owned admin data sets and are also working with other government organisations such as Department for Work and Pensions and Office for National Statistics on obtaining more data sets such as the census and income. This could allow us to explore more areas of research such as possible pathways to employment and measuring poverty using admin data.
One example of how administrative data can be linked with data already held within the SAIL Databank is ADR Wales’ Covid-19 Response work. Acting as part of a multi-institutional team as ‘One Wales’, ADR Wales researchers contributed policy-informing research to the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and UK SAGE updates.
SAIL Databank receives core funding from the Welsh Government’s Health and Care Research Wales.
ADR UK’s fundamental reason for being is to stimulate and enable research that enhances understanding of how UK society works, and how its problems can be addressed. Many research investments – especially others funded by ESRC – share the same fundamental aim, but ADR UK exists to do this by using the particular opportunities provided by the UK’s existing wealth of administrative data.
The unrivalled coverage of administrative data, across the depth and breadth of UK society, means that its use – to inform how we respond to societal challenges and engineer better public services – can benefit all of us. The inclusive nature of the data means the situation of marginalised or under-represented people can be highlighted, understood and improved.
By enabling access for expert, independent researchers to this wealth of data, ADR UK is maximising the potential of the knowledge it can reveal to serve all of society.
ADR UK is committed to working closely with members of the public from across society to ensure the research we enable remains in line with this mission, and that it is always done in an ethical and responsible way that people are comfortable with.
The sustainable body of knowledge being created by ADR UK research represents a hugely useful resource for anyone seeking to understand and improve UK society, from universities to voluntary and community organisations.
This includes government policy makers, and ADR UK works closely with both UK Government departments and the devolved administrations to create opportunities for our research projects to answer their questions and directly inform and influence policy.
This has been done by creating a series of themed research programmes, relevant to both UK Government departmental Areas of Research Interest and the priority research interests of the devolved administrations.
Once research has been done, we also ensure the findings are published and communicated in a form that is easily digestible and useable by government policy makers and wider society, as well as by academics. Often this will mean a ‘dual publication’ approach, for instance in an easily-accessible policy paper as well as in an academic journal.
ADR UK transforms personal administrative data into safe research data sets. Administrative data is de-identified, and held in secure conditions that ensure the data is anonymous (not personal data) when used by researchers. This means that any elements that are specific to an individual or that could be traced back to them – such as names, contact details, or other uniquely identifying characteristics – are removed before the data is made ready for research, and that controls are in place to ensure no re-identification attempts are made. What researchers use is a set of anonymised characteristics and interactions with public services, and the relationships between them – very useful to researchers, but not much use to anyone else.
Data that have been made anonymous must then be kept anonymous. ADR UK has rigorous procedures in place to ensure the data it prepares for research cannot be accessed by any unauthorised person, for any other reason. Researchers wishing to use the data must first go through a stringent accreditation process, and their research project must be examined by an approvals panel to ensure it is ethical, delivers value and benefit for the public, and that it actually needs access to the data the researcher has asked for.
Once they have received accreditation and approval, researchers must then access the data via a secure physical research facility (or an approved, secure connection to that facility) provided by one of the ADR UK partners. Researcher activity at these facilities is closely monitored, and outputs checked, to ensure the data has not been misused in any way.
Sustainability. Previously, government departments have made single-use ‘data shares’ for individual research projects, but the data sets have then been destroyed once the project is complete. This represents a significant investment of time and resources for a limited result. The ADR UK model is a game-changer in that it moves to true ‘data sharing’ – creating curated, themed data sets, accessible only through a secure research facility, that are maintained and can be used again and again to answer new and different questions. This is a sustainable research resource that represents much greater value for money, and more efficient use of data already collected.
Trust. By sharing data through ADR UK, government departments can be confident that data will only ever be accessed safely and securely by accredited researchers.
Expertise. ADR UK is a partnership that brings together organisations with deep knowledge and expertise in safe and impactful administrative data research, in tandem with talented researchers from reputable academic organisations across the UK.
Relevance. ADR UK’s creation of themed research programmes, directly tied to government departments’ Areas of Research Interest and devolved administration evidence needs, means data shared via this route can be used for research relevant to policy priorities, supporting policy makers with evidence to make key decisions.