Data has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, and increase productivity and innovation. The enormous volume and complexity of data that is now 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.
We are funding an important new investment in research infrastructure to maximise the potential of administrative data as a resource for high-quality research in the UK – the Administrative Data for Research (ADR UK).
The success of this project will pave the way for the UK to meet its ambition to become a global leader in big data infrastructure and create something which is world leading.
To achieve this aim, this ADR UK will work in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to strategically acquire and curate admin data and make these available to researchers in a secure way, to drive high-quality research and impact around prioritised policy themes within the UK. ESRC and ONS will also be working alongside the chief statisticians for the devolved administrations and their teams at ADR Northern Ireland, ADR Scotland and ADR Wales to deliver the new data infrastructure.
ADR UK will provide a secure route for accredited researchers to use de-identified data from across government departments, local authorities and health authorities. High quality research projects using the data will address major societal challenges and could improve public service provision across a range of areas including education, healthcare and crime.
Funding has been drawn from the National Productivity Innovation Fund (NPIF) to deliver ADR UK for three years until July 2021, with the budget being managed by us within UKRI.
We expect to announce more details of how to access the new service in the coming months.
When can data be accessed by researchers?
Data from lots of sources is already available from the ONS via the Secure Research Service, including data from social and business surveys, registration data and the census. Additional data will be acquired, and made available, through the new partnership, and referenced in a data catalogue held by the ONS. Information about how to access the new service will be provided in the coming months.
Will data be stored safely and securely, in accordance with the Digital Economy Act 2017?
ADR UK will adhere to established ethical practices regarding the use of data, with full safeguards in place for its use and for the protection of information. The Digital Economy Act 2017 has provided a legal gateway for researchers to access government data in a secure way, subject to meeting published criteria. ONS, as part of the UK Statistics Authority, will accredit researchers, projects and data processors, to ensure data is used securely and appropriately, and that all analyses are in the public interest and that ethical standards, appropriate to the nature of the research are observed.
All ONS systems are secure and accredited, and all staff working with administrative data hold appropriate security clearance. Research access to data will be granted according to the strict controls and restrictions set out in the Digital Economy Act Codes of Practice, and the ONS Approved Researcher scheme. Researchers will only be given access to de-identified data, and will not be able to see (for example) the names or addresses of individuals.
Will ADR UK be physically based anywhere?
ADR UK is based on a collaboration between several organisations, but at the centre is a new UKRI-ONS partnership for ONS to provide secure data services to researchers, recognising that ONS is well placed to deliver this due to its statutory role, existing infrastructure, expertise, relationships with government departments, and other public bodies, and long track-record of providing such services.
The ADR UK will comprise:
- a small strategic hub with a director and core team providing strategic leadership (hosted by UKRI) and other catalytic activities to facilitate effective data acquisition, promote impact and create wider recognition of the potential benefits from research use of administrative data
- secure data services provided by ONS (in collaboration with the national statistical agencies in the devolved administrations), to deliver linked, accessible, data for accredited researchers in a secure environment, for analyses that deliver clear public benefits
- strategic, high quality research programmes delivered through existing administrative data research centres in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as bespoke, scalable, research programmes delivered through the existing Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI). These will help to build capacity and develop methodological innovation in this specialist area, as well as supporting further data acquisition, by creating clear policy impacts and demonstrating the benefits of improving researcher access to administrative data.