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 – Administrative Data Research UK (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, ADR UK is working 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 provides 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 are strategically directed to 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.

How 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 is being acquired, and made available, through ADR UK, and referenced in a data catalogue held by the ONS. Information about how to access the new service is provided on the ADR UK website.

Is data stored safely and securely, in accordance with the Digital Economy Act 2017?

ADR UK adheres 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, 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 are only given access to de-identified data, and are not be able to see (for example) the names or addresses of individuals.

Is ADR UK physically based anywhere?

ADR UK is made up of three national partnerships (ADR Scotland, ADR Wales, and ADR Northern Ireland), and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which ensures data provided by UK Government bodies is accessed by researchers in a safe and secure form with minimal risk to data holders or the public.

The partnership is coordinated by a UK-wide Strategic Hub, which also promotes the benefits of administrative data research to the public and the wider research community, engages with UK Government to secure access to data, and manages a dedicated research budget.