Renewed ADR UK funding for groundbreaking Data First programme

Since its launch in 2019, and with ADR UK’s investment, Data First has become an outstanding success, making MoJ leaders across government in the transparent use of data for public good. MoJ has set the precedent in using innovation to unlock the potential of the data generated when people access justice services. To date, Data First has shared eight datasets with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service to enable accredited researchers to access data securely for innovative research insights. This includes data on the criminal and family justice system, and a cross-government share with the Department for Education. The renewed investment in Data First is testament to MoJ’s commitment to using administrative data more effectively to enhance the evidence for policy and practice.

The next phase of Data First provides an opportunity to build on these successes, with a focus on maximising research, policy impact and building capability. The ambitious plans set out to curate, link and share up to five justice research-ready datasets. These will provide new data on offenders’ risks and needs, enhancing our understanding of their experiences, journeys and outcomes across the criminal justice system. Data will be shared on the legal aid uptake for people in civil and family justice cases (in cases including domestic abuse, homelessness and debt). Data on users of the tribunals system will also be shared to provide a richer picture of justice system users’ education, mental health, child support and employment needs.

Richard Price, Director-General of Performance, Strategy and Analysis at the Ministry of Justice said, “I am delighted that ADR UK is continuing its investment in Data First for another three years. It will help us to build on our achievements to date, providing further unique opportunities for analysis that have not been possible before. This will lead to rich new insights for evidence-based policymaking to improve the lives of our justice system users. I would like to thank the Data First team and ADR UK for making the project such a success.”

The investment in Data First will also further the sharing of justice data with other government departments to explore the interactions and outcomes of justice system users across a range of public services. New data-shares will enable innovative research to understand, at scale, the links between offending and education, income and employment outcomes. These powerful new insights will enrich our understanding of what works and enable the better targeting of policies, interventions and services. 

ADR UK’s Training and Capacity Building Strategy aims to help more researchers to understand the potential of administrative data, to access it and train them to use it. Aligned to this, Data First sets out to build capability across government and academia. Each new dataset will continue to be shared alongside detailed data documentation and guidance for transparency and to support researchers. A new emphasis will be placed on training (including for early career researchers). The programme will optimise the award-winning open-source data-linking software Splink to support researchers to adapt its use, providing scalable benefits for UK data-linking capability.

Critical early pathfinder research led by MoJ will explore themes using the newly linked data, such as journeys through the criminal justice system to understand what works, for whom and why. Data made available through Data First will continue to enable critical research priorities outlined in the MoJ Areas of Research Interest (2020) to be explored through collaboration with academic partners. Professor Andromachi Tseloni will remain part of the team, to build upon the opportunities for these partnerships and maximise expertise for real policy impact. Core members of MoJ’s multi-disciplinary analytical Data First team will also remain in place to ensure continuity in the skills, expertise and relationships developed to date.

Alexy Buck and Rachel Dubourg, Chief Social Researchers, Ministry of Justice said: “The unique value of Data First is the sharing of data – in an ethical and secure way – with academic researchers, and the opportunities it provides government to collaborate with experts. Together, we are addressing critical evidence gaps that can have real impact on policy and operational practice. We are so pleased to continue working alongside ADR UK to maximise the value of these partnerships.”

Data First is making data available for accredited researchers to access for research using the legal gateway provided Digital Economy Act 2017. This allows de-identified data held by public authorities to be shared for the purpose of research. All ADR UK funded activity also operates according to the ‘Five Safes’ to ensure data is kept secure and research is for public good.

The programme grant forms part of a wider group of successful ADR UK grant recipients as part of the research-ready data and access funding opportunity. This call intended to encourage innovative and creative linkages and access to linked data to drive research to new places, underpinned by academic expertise and collaborations across sectors and policy boundaries. Six academic led projects covering a diverse range of topics – from environment and health to growing old as well as renewed funding for Wage and Employment Dynamics have already been announced. More information on the remaining funded projects will become available soon.

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