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Big data research initiative secures £15 million funding

Crowd from above with interconnected lines

A ground-breaking initiative that enhances researchers’ access to the UK’s wealth of public sector data to help solve social and economic problems will continue.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has agreed to invest a further £15 million in Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) for a further one year, until July 2022.

Access to de-identified data

ADR UK is a leader in giving accredited researchers access to de-identified data from government departments, local authorities and health authorities, to enable better informed policy decisions that address major societal challenges and improve public service provision across a range of areas including education, healthcare and crime.

ADR UK also links data from different departments and provides access to researchers so that relationships between different services and areas of policy can be more easily understood.

Since its inception in 2018, ADR UK and its partners have used administrative data research to enhance the lives of people across the UK.

Helping to heat homes

In one example, ADR Wales discovered that those who accessed the Welsh government’s Warm Homes Nest scheme were less likely to seek help from the NHS and be admitted into hospital for cardiovascular and respiratory health issues, suggesting that fuel poverty schemes have a powerful impact beyond helping people heat their homes.

Ultimately, it led to an extension of funding for the scheme between 2018–21, as well as funding for the House Conditions Evidence Programme and the Housing Stock Analytical Resource.

Improving lives and communities

In another, ADR Northern Ireland worked with academic researchers and researchers from the Northern Ireland Department for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to improve the lives of rural dwellers and farming communities and improve expertise and education among farming populations; in particular, IT literacy.

Using ADR Northern Ireland’s ability to link data from the Northern Ireland Agricultural Census and the Population Census, researchers discovered key evidence to:

  • inform government policy
  • establish robust baseline information
  • provide evidence of need
  • aid in research targeting and outcome monitoring.

This research has already saved DAERA £350,000 (the cost of conducting their own survey).

Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said:

We are delighted to have secured this continued funding, giving all of our partners the certainty they need to continue vital administrative data linking and research to inform policy decisions, improve public services, and improve the lives of people across the UK.

This funding extension is testament to the expertise and hard work of colleagues across the ADR UK partnership. It demonstrates that we now have a tried-and-tested model that works, funding the Secure Research Service at the Office for National Statistics, working with government and researchers, and delivering tangible benefits for both public policy and the wider research community.

We have commissioned landmark projects with UK government departments, while our partners in the devolved administrations have continued to grow their portfolios of policy-relevant research.

We are now an important step closer to realising our long-term vision of being the default choice to host linked administrative data from across the entirety of UK and devolved government, making it accessible to a deep pool of trained researchers to generate insights routinely used to inform policy and practice.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of ESRC, and Senior Responsible Officer for ADR UK, said:

ADR UK is a key ESRC data infrastructure investment, and to have this further commitment is strongly welcomed.

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are at a coming of age moment for administrative data. The questions we ask now, the data we collect, and how we link and analyse it, are crucial to navigating the current period, learning, and emerging stronger and more resilient for the future.

Data infrastructure established as part of the ADR UK programme has already proved its worth in informing the COVID-19 response, and there is much more to do – for instance, linking health, social and economic data to understand the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on minority ethnic communities, and the systemic vulnerabilities and inequalities that underlie them.

With renewed funding, ADR UK stands ready to help provide many of the answers.

Global leader in big data infrastructure

ESRC has approved the next year of funding unconditionally, with final confirmation for the following four years dependent on UKRI’s overall funding settlement as part of the UK government’s upcoming comprehensive spending review.

This commitment from ESRC ensures policy-relevant data linking and research projects across the UK can continue with no loss of vital skills, infrastructure and momentum that have been built up during the first three years of ADR UK, and its predecessor investments. It will also help maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in big data infrastructure.

ADR UK was initially funded as a three-year pilot programme, starting in 2018 with £44 million of funding drawn from the National Productivity Investment Fund, which exists to help deliver the UK government’s industrial strategy. The extended funding will continue to be drawn from this source.

Further information

To find out more, visit ADR UK or follow @ADR_UK on Twitter.

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