Data not originally collected for research purposes, for example, administrative data collected by government departments and other public agencies during the course of their normal business, are becoming increasingly important as alternatives or supplements to standard data sources for social science research.
As these data were not collected for research purposes, individuals may not have consented to such uses. The ESRC is investing in infrastructures (eg the Administrative Data Research Network) which enable researchers to safely access and utilise these data while robustly protecting citizens' privacy. The ADRN only processes data where there is a legal basis to do so.
The ADRN has a number of safeguards in place to enable safe access to non-consented administrative data (ADRN website). All of these safeguards are underpinned by data user agreements which researchers' institutions countersign, and breaches penalties which can be applied on both the individual and institutional level.
If a researcher wants to link administrative data with survey data via the ADRN, it is essential that specific consent is gained from survey participants for their data to be reused for statistical analysis. If the researcher wants to add administrative data to survey data they themselves are collecting, they should seek explicit consent from their survey participants. Researchers should keep all databases under review for compliance with data protection obligations where, for example, personal data are held or are generated when new data are added or linked to an existing database.
There are several codes of conduct and frameworks for ethical practice surrounding these types of data, and these are likely to increase in number as the data become more accessible and as more tools and methods enabling their use and linkage are developed. We expect researchers using these resources to adhere to the policies and guidelines issued by the ADRN.