The Good, the Bad, the Clunky Addressing Challenges in Using Administrative Data for Research

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Kerina Helen Jones Sharon Heys Karen S Tingay Paul Jackson Chris Dibben
Published online: Jan 21, 2019


Introduction: Administrative data arising via the operation of public service delivery systems hold great benefits for citizens and society providing they can be made available for research in a safe, socially-acceptable way. In recognition of this potential, the UK Administrative Data Research Network was established in 2013 to enable new research for public benefit. However, there are considerable challenges to be overcome for effective data use, and many of these are common to administrative data enterprises in general. Using this network as a practical case study, we set out to explore the challenges, and to share the ‘good’, suggest solutions to the ‘bad’, and improve the ‘clunky’ issues.


Methods: A qualitative survey replicating the data use pathway was carried out across the network, followed by a workshop to discuss the summarised findings and make further suggestions. This led to a set of recommendations to inform the development of an action plan for implementation.


Results: The survey respondents (N=27) and workshop participants (N=95) comprised multi‑disciplinary staff from across the network. The responses were summarised by consensus of three researchers and grouped into six areas: A) Data acquisition pathway; B) Approval processes; C) Controls on access & disclosure; D) Data and metadata; E) Researcher support; and F) Data reuse & retention, leading to an embedded set of 18 recommendations. Key developments promoted by this study were the development of themed research partnerships to progress data acquisition, and a policy of data retention and reuse for research.


Conclusion: The network has broken new ground in using administrative data for research. This study has enabled the development of an evidence-based action plan to address many challenges in the effective use of administrative data. It represents a practical worked example, widely relevant to enterprises working with administrative data across the world.


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