Investing for the future: ADR UK in the context of the Spending Review
On 12 October, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) published its Corporate Plan for 2020-21, in which continued investment in ADR UK is a priority objective for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Like all UKRI programmes, our long term funding is dependent on the UK Government’s forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Dr Emma Gordon, ADR UK Director, sets out why the partnership is well placed to meet the CSR’s priorities, as set out by the Chancellor in July.
The first phase of the ADR UK programme, which started in mid-2018, was always intended to be a three-year pilot for a longer-term investment, to test a new way of working with Whitehall departments to open up access to administrative data for research.
The first two years of that pilot have been action-packed, and we have amassed the necessary evidence that a longer-term investment is appropriate. This summer, we went through an independent Project Assessment Review of ADR UK, to test whether we were on track to deliver what we set out to do. For me, this quote from the review report summarises just how far we have come in these two years, and why ADR UK is exactly the right programme to be investing in now:
"From the comments we received, we recognise that the programme has gathered momentum over the last year and there is a clear business need for the further investment to build on the early success. In addition, many of those we interviewed emphasised that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for access to new and emerging research-ready datasets is likely to grow exponentially over the coming months and years as departments and policymakers address unprecedented economic and societal challenges."
Reinvestment in ADR UK also makes perfect sense in the context of the UK Government’s latest CSR. This sets out six priorities for Government spending, and ADR UK is well placed to make substantive contributions to them all.
Priority #1: “Strengthening the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19 by prioritising jobs and skills.”
On one level, ADR UK is an investment in data science and wider analytical skills that are urgently needed not just within the research sector but across the UK economy. Our planned Data and Public Policy Centre for Doctoral Training would provide a pipeline of researchers trained to analyse complex datasets, including those we create. This aligns with the UKRI commitment to work with the Royal Statistical Society to strengthen data skills across the research community.
On a higher level, ADR UK research will provide insights that will help policymakers support people across the UK to stay in work and progress their earnings. The Wage and Employment Dynamics project, for example, will map wage progression against characteristics such as gender and ethnicity, and show where support is needed to ensure not just work, but work that pays.
Priority #2: “Levelling up economic opportunity across all nations and regions of the country by investing in infrastructure, innovation and people – thus closing the gap with our competitors by spreading opportunity, maximising productivity and improving the value add of each hour worked.”
ADR UK is built on a four-nation partnership, with ADR Northern Ireland, ADR Scotland and ADR Wales sharing knowledge and best practice to the benefit of all. They are soon to be joined by a formalised ADR England in the next stage of the programme. In many ways, it is the expertise and experience of our partners in the devolved administrations that is leading and driving forwards progress at a UK level.
On top of this, embedded in our future plans is a commitment to further extend geographic access to our datasets for researchers across the length and breadth of the UK, with the use of ESRC’s SafePod network, in addition to Assured Organisational Connectivity agreements rolled out by the Office for National Statistics. Access to the administrative data held within our Trusted Research Environments will help stimulate the knowledge economy across the whole country.
Priority #3: “Improving outcomes in public services, including supporting the NHS and taking steps to cut crime and ensure every young person receives a superb education.”
Improving the effectiveness of public services is a fundamental aim of ADR UK research – it’s about finding out what does and doesn’t work to improve outcomes. To name just a handful of examples: our Data First programme at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is linking data from across the justice system to inform where and how to intervene to reduce repeat use of the courts, and prevent involvement with the civil justice system escalating into the criminal courts; while our Growing Up in England dataset and Understanding Children’s Outcomes project in Scotland will enhance understanding of the factors that influence educational attainment.
Priority #4: “Making the UK a scientific superpower, including leading in the development of technologies that will support the government’s ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
ADR UK investment is not just growing the UK’s pool of skilled data scientists and analysts, but advancing their practice by generating methodological innovation in data linkage. The open source splink package, created as a result of Data First, is a recent example.
On the decarbonisation front, ADR Wales researchers are exploring the possibilities of relevant data linkages, as part of their focus on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. We hope to fund more research in this area over the course of the next investment.
Priority #5: “Strengthening the UK’s place in the world.”
The UK is not yet at the top of the pile when it comes to making the best use of our public sector administrative data – that mantle is currently held by countries such as New Zealand, with their Integrated Data Infrastructure. But we are making great strides and causing ears to prick up and take notice internationally, with ADR UK poised to take the helm of the International Population Data Linkage Network for 2021-22. Renewed and sustained investment in ADR UK will push us towards being a world-leader in this space, and grow our international scientific standing.
Priority #6: “Improving the management and delivery of our commitments, ensuring that all departments have the appropriate structures and processes in place to deliver their outcomes and commitments on time and within budget.”
ADR UK’s progress to date has been underpinned by a comprehensive Performance Management Framework, rigorous governance structures and regular reporting. These are all being refined and improved, to ensure we can continue to evidence how we are delivering our refreshed vision.
Beyond this, ADR UK continues to offer services to other public bodies and government departments to help them deliver on their own commitments, by harnessing their administrative data to evaluate what does and doesn’t work to improve outcomes, and ensure money is spent wisely. This is the aim of studies such as one we are funding a University of Bristol team to carry out on behalf of the Home Office, to establish whether linked MoJ and Department for Education data can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of violence reduction programmes.
In summary, I am incredibly proud of everything that my team and the other ADR UK partners and grant holders have delivered as part of the pilot phase. This has put us in exactly the right position to deliver an even more ambitious vision over the coming years – to be 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.