International knowledge sharing: Public good data research in Chile and the UK
Ahead of this week’s ADR UK Conference 2023, a delegation led by Consorcio IDI – a consortium of universities for an integrated data infrastructure in Chile – visited members of the ADR UK partnership to exchange knowledge and share best practices. Here, two members of the Chilean delegation share their perspectives on the discussions.
María Paz Hermosilla: Professor and Director of GobLab at Adolfo Ibañez University
The role of my lab is to promote the responsible use of data to transform government and improve services to people. In this role, we’ve always found a lot of barriers to access data – for the government to access their own data, and for external researchers to access government data. So, we created a consortium of four universities in Chile to promote the creation of an integrated data infrastructure.
One of the mechanisms we have for advocacy is to visit other countries, where we learn how they’ve solved this problem. We’re here to learn more about how data infrastructure works in the UK: how the government integrates data, how researchers can access the value of data, and the challenges of managing it. The support of the British Embassy in Chile and a grant from UCL has been key to accomplish this visit.
Impressions of ADR UK and data infrastructure in the UK
I think what ADR UK does and how it’s structured is really good – in particular, the focus on training and capacity building, impact and engagement. I think that’s key because sometimes in government, communicating what you’re doing is seen as a tickbox but it doesn’t have an end goal, so I really like this focus.
In terms of data integration, the SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank model is most like what we would like to do in Chile. ADR England’s flagship dataset model, while pragmatic for the data landscape in England, is harder to grasp from the outside. We would like every single dataset that comes in to be integrated into one large longitudinal dataset.
Public attitudes to administrative data research in Chile
There’s not a lot of evidence on public attitudes towards collecting data in Chile, it’s something we need more research on. If we create an integrated data system, we need to include this in our plan. But what I can tell you is the evidence shows that people do not trust government – so whatever we do, the government needs to obtain and maintain social licence.
Public engagement is not something researchers are used to doing in Chile. Government is more used to it: we have a public participation law, which includes different mechanisms for participation. So, there is more of a culture in government – I’m not sure whether it’s to use the findings from the engagement with the public – but at least to do it.
The value of engaging internationally, and the ADR UK Conference 2023
You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, you want to start from where others have progressed. One of the things I’m really interested in seeing is how universities collaborate with statistical agencies, which is the model in the UK. Chile has a very robust higher education system that can support the government. I don’t envisage a university in Chile managing the data, as happens in Wales, but I do think we could help the government in managing the system and doing some of the work that ADR UK does here.
I’m looking forward to the more applicable, management-related parts of this conference. I’m interested in the public engagement sessions. I’m also going to a workshop on how to get impact out of your work. For government to invest time in something, it has to be useful – and for that, research has to have the potential to affect policy. So, if we can learn how to do that and teach others, that would be great.
I write policy papers myself, and the stuff I learn is never all written down – some of it comes out when someone asks a question. When you travel it’s a way to learn, and it also gives you validation to advocate for something, because you can say, “they already did it!”
Members of the delegation led by Consorcio IDI at the ADR UK Conference 2023
Leonardo Gonzalez: Technical Sub-Director of the Institute of National Statistics, Chile
Tell us about your knowledge exchange meeting with ADR UK
We explored the functioning of ADR UK. We were able to learn about how administrative datasets are generated for research purposes and how they are made available to researchers, safeguarding the confidentiality of individuals. There is an overarching goal to enhance the development of public policies through research.
Additionally, we gained insights into diverse strategies aimed at educating users of the data. We discussed initiatives focused on training and capacity-building for research teams, aiming to optimise the use of the administrative data.
The discussion was highly fruitful, and we were briefed on the strategies employed to measure impact and engagement, along with the ongoing monitoring of the outcomes derived from the datasets. This resonates with me, especially considering the dedicated commitment to measuring the tangible benefits that research contributes to people's lives.
What could the UK learn from Chile’s approach to data, ethics and research?
In both statistical systems, I think that we possess dependable, well-organised, and high-quality administrative records. Both countries demonstrate a heightened sensitivity to safeguarding individuals' information. This is crucial for ensuring the longevity of research endeavours and mitigating concerns from population about the handling of sensitive data.
Chile benefits from having a unique identifier for individuals, a valuable asset for establishing connections between administrative records for research purposes or investigative developments. For example, Chile has begun to integrate social data within the Ministry of Social Development, facilitating research across various governmental databases. I believe that the UK could advance in integrating cross-sectional datasets currently operating independently to promote more comprehensive cross-sectoral analyses.
Finally, with the presence of a unique population ID in Chile, there is the potential to establish linkages between databases in a more standardised way.
Are there any ideas you’ve heard about the UK’s approach that you’ll take away?
There are several ideas that I find relevant to further study and could adapt to the Chilean context. The first relates to the need for greater integration of existing administrative records within the government, and the second involves the possibility of creating secure access for research purposes.
As the National Institute of Statistics of Chile, our current regulatory framework does not allow us to provide differentiated access for different types of researchers. However, there is a new law on statistical institutionalisation currently under parliamentary discussion, which would enable access for researchers dealing with integrated data. Learning from the UK's experience is crucial for us, as it allows us to progress in addressing future considerations when this access can be granted.
Another element I find relevant is the emphasis on users: I believe the researcher training practices related to the datasets are excellent initiatives that I would like to see implemented in our country. Lastly, the motivation to measure the impact of the initiatives generated by ADR UK is also crucial, as it highlights the value of research derived from datasets.
Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK said: "It has been fantastic for the ADR UK team to spend time with the delegation from Chile, to learn from each other how to securely open up access to administrative data for research and maintain the social licence to do this.
"At the start of the ADR UK journey, we actively sought advice and insights from other countries who were further forward in their journey, and we want to pay this back by helping other countries now – whilst using every opportunity to learn from them also."
Maria and Leonardo are currently participating in the ADR UK Conference 2023. Supporting international knowledge exchange is an important part of ADR UK’s approach to transforming the way researchers access the UK’s wealth of public sector data.