Following the collapse of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly in 2017, the Administrative Data Research Centre Northern Ireland (ADRC NI), responsible for facilitating access to government data for research for public benefit, had to quickly adapt and identify new ways to continue to positively influence policy and practice.

Using research to help shape policy, practice and legislation has become a key focus in recent years, particularly for research using public data such as routinely collected administrative data, as it produces valuable evidence for improved policymaking.

However, despite the challenges the collapse presented, ADRC NI were able to maintain their influence on policy and practice even in the absence of a (now-restored) Stormont government, by developing an approach that kept engagement and involvement at the heart of in the process. How this was done, and its successes and challenges, are explored in a new paper published in the International Journal of Population Data Science (IJPDS).

ADRC NI implemented a model of ‘co-production’, which focuses primarily on the use of steering committees for each research programme. These committees include policymakers, service providers and voluntary, community and social enterprise groups.

They believe it is crucial to prioritise the voices of these stakeholders and to include a broad variety of knowledge and experience to ensure that research answers questions of value both to policymakers and to the public whose data is being used.

Professor Dermot O’Reilly, Director of ADRC NI and co-author of the paper, commented that, “While developing data research to influence public policy is vital when using public data, positioning it in the right place is not always straightforward.”

Actively sharing knowledge generated from data research is also key, and this is done in partnership with steering committee members in the form of targeted knowledge events.

The aim of such events is to present research findings to the community, policymakers and service stakeholders, and gain a deeper understanding of how the research is deemed useful from the participant’s point of view by their responses. The steering committee members also help provide new ideas and direction for future research exploration and collaboration through open debate, ensuring that all stakeholders remain actively involved.

Professor O’Reilly continued, “By directly involving policy makers and third sector stakeholders in the development and delivery of our research, we increase the likelihood that the research will be useful to policymakers and reflective of public experience. While there is never a guarantee that the desired impact will be reached, and there are still important cultural shifts that need to occur, this model offers learning for other research initiatives.”


Click here to read the full open access article

Elizabeth Nelson, Institute for Nursing and Health Research, Ulster University, Belfast; The Administrative Data Research Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Nelson, E. and O’Reilly, D. (2021) “Influencing policy and practice is work in progress”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 6(3). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v6i3.1714.