How can we make administrative data research-ready?
Administrative data are routinely collected during the day-to-day delivery of services, such as health, education, justice and social care. Because administrative data contain detailed information about all users of a service collected over many years, they are an extremely valuable resource for research.
However, when it comes to using administrative data for research, the UK lags behind other countries (such as Sweden and Denmark). This is partly because of governance and technical barriers which limit their use. For example, administrative data in the UK are often difficult, time-consuming and costly for researchers to access. The data can also be messy and difficult to work with, which means researchers have to spend a lot of time cleaning and preparing the data before it can be analysed.
There has been considerable financial investment by the UK Government in making administrative data more “research-ready”, but there is no definition or common understanding of what this term actually means.
A recent study by researchers at University College London (UCL) uncovered a set of defining characteristics of research-ready administrative data based on their review of more than 2,300 scientific papers. The research team found that, to be considered research-ready, administrative data must be accessible, broad, curated, documented and enhanced for research purposes.
Lead author Dr Louise Mc Grath-Lone explained that “Our proposed framework is a starting point to help data owners and researchers develop common standards for research-ready administrative data. By working together to create high-quality, de-identified, research-ready administrative databases, that can be re-used multiple times to answer different research questions, we can reduce duplication of effort for both data owners and researchers. This would lead to less waste of resources and ultimately greater use of data for the public benefit.”
Dr Louise Mc Grath-Lone, Senior Research Fellow, University College London
Mc Grath-Lone, L., Jay, M. A., Blackburn, R., Gordon, E., Zylbersztejn, A., Wiljaars, L. and Gilbert, R. (2022) “What makes administrative data research-ready? : A systematic review and thematic analysis of published literature”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(1). Available at: https://ijpds.org/article/view/1718 (Accessed: 27 April 2022).