Economic and Social Research Council
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Addressing major societal challenges by harnessing government data

Combined data from across government and hundreds of UK public bodies will be used to improve healthcare, education, business growth and the fight against crime by making it available to world-leading research teams.

The Administrative Data Research Partnership (ADRP) will maximise the potential of administrative data as a resource for high-quality innovative research in the UK. Supported by a £44 million investment from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, the ADRP will 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.

To meet the UK’s ambitions to be a world-leader in big data, the government is clear in the modern Industrial Strategy that we need the infrastructure to support these 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.”

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. 

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.”

National Statistician and Permanent Secretary with executive responsibility for the Office for National Statistics, John Pullinger said: “The UK is experiencing a data revolution. New and previously unimaginable sources are becoming available along with the analytical tools and expertise that together will increase and improve the evidence available to decision makers in Government, business and beyond.  

“This partnership unites the skills and experience of the ONS, the ESRC and the devolved administrations and provides the crucial assurance that data will be used securely, ethically, transparently and firmly in the public interest.”

Further information

Notes for editors

  1. The ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a new organisation that brings together the UK's seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. The vision is to ensure the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation.
  2. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policy-makers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.
  3. UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.
  4. ONS is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and its recognised national statistical institute. We are responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels. We also conduct the census in England and Wales every 10 years.  
  5. More information on ADRP will be made available as the programme evolves. In delivering three functions the ADRP will provide:
  • data services – relating to acquisition, maintenance and access to admin data and user support will be delivered principally by the ONS, but also by the statistical teams in the devolved administrations and administrative data research centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 
  • research functions – will promote the use of admin data in impact-focussed research to address priority societal challenges as well as furthering impact from existing research. These will be delivered by three administrative data research centres at Swansea University, the University of Edinburgh and Queen’s University Belfast and their partners the chief statisticians of the devolved administrations. 
  • catalytic function – a newly established team will form the strategic hub to act as a catalyst in the relationship between research and government data owners and build increased commitment from within government for data sharing and a sustainable research resource for the future. The strategic hub will be led by an influential and high-profile director to provide strategic leadership across the partnership and also manage a dedicated research budget to commission strategic research projects, which will be known as strategic impact programmes, to address societal challenges using admin data and develop strategic impact programmes. It is anticipated that the strategic hub will be fully operational by March 2019, with an interim strategic hub team in the meantime.

Operational details for the functions above will be confirmed later in the year.

For further information please see or email

ADRP will be funded until July 2021 and funds are being made available from the National Productivity Innovation Fund (NPIF).

  1. What is administrative data?
  • Administrative Data (AD) is collected routinely by government and other public bodies. Among other things, it includes data on incomes, working patterns, travel patterns, education health and criminal history for all who come into contact with government departments and public services. 
  • There is a huge wealth of AD held in government departments with enormous research potential. Matching this data across individuals over time allows the efficient creation of richly informative longitudinal datasets, as well as facilitating evaluation and analysis of particular policy interventions and investment. 
  • Investment in infrastructure to provide access to anonymised AD in a safe and secure environment to trained researchers has the potential to vastly increase the impact and efficiency of social and economic research, and provide a robust evidence base to enhance the development, implementation and evaluation of public policies and services. 
  • Access to quality data is a significant constraint on the ability of researchers to generate policy relevant research so providing access to AD is of critical strategic importance for social sciences and wider research in the UK. The proposed investment will build on previous investment in this area to develop a new, more effective, business model, learning lessons from the challenges and successes of the previous investment. Success with the next stage of this project will create infrastructure that will be world leading. 
  1. ESRC is currently recruiting for the post of Strategic Hub Director to provide strategic leadership within the ADRP. Applications close on 1 October. 
  2. ESRC funded the Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) for a period of five years from 2013. The ADRN is due to close in autumn 2018. The Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) was a UK-wide partnership between universities, government departments and agencies, national statistics authorities, the third sector, funders and researchers. The ADRN was a new and innovative approach to a complex challenge and the new programme incorporates many of the lessons learned from the previous approach.


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