The ADRN was established following the Administrative Data Taskforce (ADT) report published in 2012. The report argued that administrative data in research needed to be used more effectively across the UK, to support public policy and ultimately empower government departments and researchers to improve society. Other leading experts suggest the UK is lagging behind fellow European countries and other parts of the developed world.
The Administrative Data Taskforce was a working group set up by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust. They selected specialists in the fields of administrative data research, social research and medical research to come together and discuss different ways in which the information the government collects can benefit research.
Their conclusion was that a Network should be set up to create a single point of access for researchers who want to use government data for their social or economic research. This point of access should screen the researchers, make sure they are properly trained to handle potentially sensitive information, provide safe rooms for the researchers to access the data in, and take on the task of negotiating for data access as well as find safe ways to link different datasets together without compromising the privacy of any one person or organisation.
As a result, the ESRC decided to fund the Administrative Data Research Network.
The ADT report identified that:
“Improving access to and linkage between administrative datasets for research and statistical purposes would have demonstrable effects on economic growth.”
“The UK has the opportunity to be a world leader in research using de-identified administrative data, routinely collected by government departments, agencies and other statutory bodies. Such data, made accessible for research in ways that prevent the identification of individuals will provide a robust UK-wide evidence base to inform research, thereby guiding the development, implementation and evaluation of policy.” Administrative Data Taskforce report, 2012
The government committed to support its recommendations and agreed to work with the research community to support the use and reuse of de-identified administrative data for research and policy purposes. Their response emphasised the importance of:
- building on existing activities, infrastructure and systems where feasible to develop a new UK-wide approach
- developing the infrastructure to maximise the potential benefits to government analysts, the wider research community and citizens
- ensuring that the full breadth of data sources, with analytical value and held in administrative systems, are accessible for research
“The Government welcome the emphasis on operating to the highest international standards. The initiative offers an opportunity for the UK to take the lead.” Department for Business Innovation and Skills – Improving Access for Research and Policy, June 2013
The Taskforce report also recommended that the public should be consulted, and that their views should be taken in consideration when setting up the Network. The ESRC and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) commissioned IPSOS Mori to conduct a nation-wide public consultation on the subject of administrative data and its use as a basis for gathering information for the census as well as social research.
The Network took the recommendations from this consultation and incorporated them in its foundation principles.
The ADRN established secure processes, procedures and policies to ensure the protection of privacy and public benefit are at the heart of everything it does. There are over one hundred and forty research projects in the pipeline and it has advised on the drafting of the Digital Economy Bill in the UK and shared knowledge and expertise with governments and researchers in Australia, Europe, South Korea and USA, to name a few.
The Digital Economy Act has passed through parliament, with the aim to enable better use of data for research, in a secure way that protects public privacy.
In 2018, the five-year funding cycle came to an end and the ESRC decided not to continue administrative data research support in the form of the ADRN. A new administrative data research initiative will be launched later in 2018.