"...weaving straw into gold." That's how Jane Elliott, CEO of the ESRC describes the overall aim of her organisation's Big Data network. This is no fairy tale, but that doesn't mean there's no happy ending!

The Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) was established with effect from 1 October 2013, in response to the Administrative Data Taskforce report  It is composed of four Administrative Data Research Centres (ADRCs), one in each country of the UK, and a coordinating body, the Administrative Data Service (ADS).

We're working together across the UK to create and increase secure access to linked, de-identified government administrative datasets to find answers to research questions that benefit UK society. We undertake and we facilitate non-commercial research with evident potential for public benefit, and we provide training and capacity building opportunities to researchers.

One of our key aims is to engage in public discussion about the data sharing landscape: we don't make decisions about you, without you. Organisations who share their data with ADRN will do so on a project-by-project basis for non-commercial research purposes, and will know who has access to the data and what it is to be used for. We're data processors not data owners.

ADRN reports to a Board established by the UK Statistics Authority, and ultimately to Parliament.

The Administrative Data Research Centre for England (ADRC-E) is led by the University of Southampton, and has four other partners: University College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Office for National Statistics.

Once researchers have successfully completed the application and training process, and their project proposal has been approved by an independent Approvals Panel, negotiations with data owners will take place on their behalf. ADS usually manages these activities for ADRC-E, although this varies for the ADRCs in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The specified dataset will then be created by ADRC-E - on the strict basis that no-one involved in the process has access to both identifier and attribute data. The researcher can then access their linked de-identified dataset: ADRC-E has CESG Listed Advisor Scheme (CLAS) accredited secure labs in Southampton, Titchfield (Fareham), and London. Following analysis, outputs are checked before release to the researcher to ensure that any remaining risk of disclosure of personal information is minimised.

ADRC-E is part of the spectrum of government open data, whereby freely available data is at one end, and the kind of managed secure access to administrative data that we provide is at the other – in other words, we are committed to the principle that data are made increasingly available but in appropriate ways dependent on content, with protecting personal information at the heart of what we do.

ADRN is a journey, not a destination, and we welcome fellow travellers. We opened our doors to projects on 25 November 2014 and interest is growing steadily. We will continue to grow, learn and evolve over our lifetime.

Oh - and that happy ending I mentioned? That would be a new data sharing landscape with lots of exciting, societally-beneficial research questions answered from linked government administrative datasets with public support by a new generation of researchers that ADRN helped to create.

Dr Emma White is Assistant Director (Operations) for the Administrative Data Research Centre for England and is based at the University of Southampton.

Website: https://adrn.ac.uk/centres/england 

Twitter: @adrc_e


Any views or opinions presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the MRS Census and Geodemographic Group unless otherwise specifically stated.


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