To mark the launch of ADR England, Dr Emma Gordon, Director of both ADR England and the wider ADR UK programme, discusses the journey towards this launch and the opportunities it brings for both government and the wider research community.
When the pilot phase of the ADR UK programme was launched in September 2018, there was a notable absence of an ADR England within the partnership. This was despite there being an ADR Scotland, ADR Wales and ADR Northern Ireland, each bringing academic and government partners together to create research-ready datasets from administrative data sources, to deliver impactful research to inform policy and practice.
The absence of an ADR England was a very conscious decision, which related to the known complexity of the data sharing landscape across Whitehall departments. More fundamentally, it also related to why the original ADR UK investment was set up as a pilot. Although there were many who were convinced of the benefits both to government and the wider research community if Whitehall departments did engage with a programme such as ADR UK, there was no tried and tested model across Whitehall for setting up the types of collaborative partnerships that existed within the devolved administrations. Without this, there could be no ADR England – and no long-term investment in ADR UK.
Over the last three years, we have been testing different models for how to engage Whitehall departments in the ADR UK vision, and how best to set up constructive, collaborative engagement between external researchers and government. As a result of everything we have learned and delivered to date, I am very pleased to announce the formal launch of ADR England today.
This follows rigorous, independent external reviews of the pilot programme and of our future plans, and a huge amount of constructive engagement with some fantastically committed teams across the Civil Service. We have also benefited hugely from advice from our partners across the devolved administrations on what has worked for them – and what hasn’t.
I won’t pretend for one minute that we have solved all of the data access, linkage and sharing issues that exist across Whitehall – there is much more still to do here, and not all of this is within our remit. However, we do now have a suite of truly innovative projects within the ADR England portfolio, spanning a range of research themes and policy challenges that are highly relevant to society today. Crucially, these give us a model we can build on, refining as we go, as we enter the long-term investment phase of the ADR UK programme.
In addition to the data linkage projects that sit within the ADR England portfolio, during the pilot phase of our investment we have also tested how the new, linked datasets can be utilised to deliver policy-focussed research through our Research Fellowship calls. These are designed to support collaborative engagement between policy departments and researchers, reinforcing the feedback loop between the data owning organisations and policy departments who have collaborated with us to open up access to data, and the researchers who we are commissioning to analyse it.
In collaboration with our Economic and Social Research Council colleagues, we have also recently opened a funding opportunity for Data Science Fellows to conduct policy-focussed research at the heart of UK Government, embedded within the No.10 Data Science team. This will further strengthen the links between government and external researchers to deliver research for the public good.
As part of the launch of ADR England, today we are also launching a new funding opportunity to add new data linking and research projects to the ADR England portfolio. Projects will be commissioned in line with the ADR England Strategy, which prioritises research for public good that cuts across traditional policy boundaries, and the creation of sustainable and reusable data assets. Data holders and researchers interested in putting forward an expression of interest can find out more on the funding opportunity page.
One of the final pieces of the ADR UK jigsaw that we will be putting into place as part of the long-term investment is a comprehensive training package, to ensure existing and new researchers have the knowledge and experience to analyse the new, linked datasets we are making available. These plans are still very much in development, but now ADR England is officially launched, I look forward to continuing to update you on our progress in realising the vision for the ADR UK programme across all four nations of the UK.