Data and securityPartnership aims to ‘put big data at the fingertips of experts’

Partnership aims to 'put big data at the fingertips of experts'

A new partnership is aiming to combine big data from across government and hundreds of UK public bodies to boost healthcare, education, business growth and the fight against crime

A new partnership is aiming to combine big data from across government and hundreds of UK public bodies to boost healthcare, education, business growth and the fight against crime by making it available to world-leading research teams.

The Administrative Data Research Partnership (ADRP) has issued plans to maximise the potential of administrative data as a resource for high-quality innovative research in the UK. The work is being supported by a £44 million investment from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, that will allow ADRP to 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 such as improved public service provision across the areas of education, healthcare and crime. Examples of issues addressed could include:

  • enabling the measurement of different levels of need in children, and to reveal the different experiences of children in the context of their families, households, schools and communities.
  • the stability and financial security of older people in society, and of those heading towards retirement.
  • a better understanding of firm-level productivity, and the role leadership and the impact of investment on productivity in different sectors of the UK economy.
  • exploring the factors affecting a person’s entry and exit from the labour market throughout their working ages.

The work ties in with the government’s ambitions, made clear in the modern Industrial Strategy, that there’s a need for the infrastructure to support efforts, and over £1 billion was invested through the AI Sector Deal to create a country with world class digital capabilities.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Big data can unlock answers to big challenges with the ultimate goal of improving lives. Understanding links between childhood health problems and their education, or understanding how employees report their wellbeing can help tailor appropriate support to ensure people achieve their full potential.

“Putting big data at the fingertips of experts will help the UK maintain its place as a world-leader in innovative problem solving, a key ambition of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Ethical practices

The ADRP 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.

The UK Statistics Authority will accredit researchers, projects and data processors, to ensure data are used securely and appropriately, that all analyses are in the public interest and that ethical standards, appropriate to the nature of the research, are observed.

With 25 Ministerial departments, three devolved administrations, 20 non-ministerial departments, 391 agencies and other public bodies, and at least 326 local authorities across the UK, government data provides a huge resource that could be used as a force for good by researchers working on issues ranging from productivity to education, crime to health care and business growth to wellbeing.

The ADRP led by the ESRC will strategically acquire and curate admin data to drive high-quality research and impact around prioritised policy themes within the UK.

Excellent evidence

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “Excellent policy making requires excellent evidence. The Administrative Data Research Partnership provides an exceptional opportunity for researchers to work with data brought together from many public bodies in a safe, secure environment.

“This type of analysis has already started to prove valuable for analysing educational and work outcomes, in relation to social factors and participation in different educational programmes.

“The opportunities to influence and support policy making in areas ranging from health and education, to productivity and national resilience, are enormous.”

ESRC will be working in close partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority, the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest independent producer of official statistics, and also alongside the chief statisticians for the devolved administrations and their teams to deliver the new data infrastructure.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, ESRC’s Executive Chair said: “Access to administrative data is of critical strategic importance for the social sciences and wider research in the UK, because it allows us to answer questions that will improve the provision of public services and a range of outcomes. The Administrative Data Research Partnership will provide a secure route for accredited researchers to access de-identified data to do so.

“UKRI will host a Strategic Hub which will be catalytic in enabling data that already exists across government to support high-quality research, that can produce insights into policy areas and help address major challenges that exist in society today across themes such as housing, education, health and wellbeing.

“I am delighted that ESRC is leading this work for UK Research and Innovation and partnering with the Office for National Statistics to bring about a step change in the way data infrastructure is used to drive improvements here in the UK.”

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