ADR UK Conference 2023: Day 1 brings together diverse insights on research to support resilience and inclusion

Yesterday marked an engaging day of ideas and discussions at the ADR UK Conference 2023. 400 delegates from across the data research sector have joined us at The Eastside Rooms in Birmingham, to share their findings and learn from their peers. Across the board, we’ve heard how research using administrative data can inform better policy and practice.  

Delivered in partnership with the Office for National Statistics, the theme of this conference is Public data for resilience and inclusion: Using administrative data to inform policy and practice in challenging times. ADR UK supports policy-relevant research and working in communications and engagement means I’m particularly interested in this goal. How can we transform research findings into actionable insights, which reach the right decision-makers to inform policy and improve outcomes? 

The impact of administrative data research on real people's lives

Yesterday’s keynote speakers definitely enriched my understanding of this question, embedding their stories with examples of real-world impact. Opening the day, Professor Marion Oswald MBE took on the subtheme of Ethics, law and social implications. Marion is a Professor of Law at Northumbria University and a Senior Research Associate at the Alan Turing Institute. Her talk explored the nuances surrounding the use of data and AI to inform decision-making, and the principles that can be used to help ensure this happens ethically and in the public interest. She weighed up the balance of: 

  1. being careful about how research findings are applied, and adding the right caveats and limitations 
  2. society’s responsibility to use the data we have to make the best decisions, for example to prevent harm. 

To illustrate these issues, Marion asked the audience to behave like an algorithm. We were given a series of details about a person’s history of police intelligence mentions, and asked whether an algorithm would decide they were at high risk of committing a knife crime. Almost all of the audience said that it would. We were then given more contextual details which a human police officer would be able to gather – which led almost all of the audience to change their decision. 

Marion highlighted how linked administrative data can give us this vital context at a population level, enriching our understanding and highlighting patterns that might otherwise be missed. 

I’m hoping my keynote will give people an insight into my own experience of how the research landscape has evolved to support the renewal, recovery, and resilience of our health and social care systems.

- Professor Rohini Mathur, keynote speaker

Systems design to better address homelessness

Later in the day, Professor Peter Mackie from Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning also gave a keynote. As ADR Wales’ academic co-lead for housing and homelessness, Peter applied the subtheme of Data linkage, methods, systems and technology to these issues, imagining an ideal administrative data system for addressing homelessness. Peter highlighted the value of systems that are designed for research, suitable for their particular context, and pragmatic for the real world. 

In particular, Peter emphasised the value of building trusting and meaningful relationships in public data research. He shared an example of a research project in Australia, which removed data from its findings in response to feedback from the indigenous communities to which this data related.  

I was particularly struck by the way Peter’s talk drew on the pressing issue of homelessness to illustrate the importance of data systems design in affecting real people – and the consequences when these systems are not sufficient. As a communicator working in the data research space, a persistent challenge for me is drawing the connections between complex research and infrastructure, and real-world implications. To do this, Peter showed the difficulty of evaluating “rapid rehousing” – designed to move people experiencing homelessness into settled housing as quickly as possible – without an accepted definition of what counts as “rapid”.  

Insights from ADR UK's range of activities

Yesterday also saw a wide range of oral presentations taking place across parallel sessions, followed by poster presentations at the celebratory evening reception. The Administrative Data | Agricultural Research Collection team discussed their project, and the challenge of linking agricultural datasets with individual-level records. ADR UK Research Fellow Dr Katie Hunter shared some of her findings about preventing unnecessary criminalisation of children in care. And colleagues from ADR UK and the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) delved into the findings from the ADR UK – OSR public dialogue on public perceptions of public good use of data for research. 

Looking ahead

This theme carries us into today – where OSR Director Ed Humpherson is giving the opening keynote on the theme of Public engagement and involvement in population data research. He highlights the value of “baking in” public engagement in the design of research projects. Later in the day, Professor Rohini Mathur, Chair of Health Data Science at Queen Mary University of London, will give the final keynote on Research to support renewal, recovery and resilience.

Rohini shared a few thoughts with us ahead of her talk: 

How have you found the conference so far? 

“So far, the conference has been great. This is my first time with ADR UK, and I’ve been impressed with the breadth of work being presented; the multidisciplinary focus; and the learning opportunities for those of us like myself working at the intersection of research, quality improvement, and health equity.  

Why did you agree to participate as a keynote speaker in this conference? Why do you think it’s important? 

“Though I am an epidemiologist by background, the importance of multisectoral approaches and linkage between health and administrative datasets has really come to the forefront of my work, especially since the pandemic. This conference is a great opportunity to learn from people leading research excellence and innovation in other settings across the UK and internationally.” 

What do you hope people will take from your talk today? 

“I’m hoping my keynote will give people an insight into my own experience of how the research landscape has evolved to support the renewal, recovery, and resilience of our health and social care systems. Also, how the paradigm of research has shifted, I think for the better!” 


Overall, working on this conference has been a fantastic insight into how to engage with people working in research and government in an effective way. Yesterday, we spoke to the delegation visiting from Chile, who have been exchanging knowledge with the ADR UK team. 

Particular thanks must go to organisational team at the ONS and the scientific committee, who together have delivered a really exciting programme and a collaborative atmosphere. I’m looking forward to finding out who the winners of the three conference awards are at the end of today. I’ve certainly taken away lots of inspiration and ideas from across the sessions to consider for our future engagement activities.  

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