A report published today (18 December 2020) is the first to explicitly apply behavioural insights to the challenge of linking and sharing government administrative data for research. It identifies remaining barriers in this area within government, and suggests how behavioural insights can be applied to overcome them.
The report, Applying Behavioural Insights to Cross-government Data Sharing, was commissioned by ADR UK and produced by the Behavioural Insights Team – the UK’s leading experts on using behavioural science to inform policy and improve outcomes.
Using a combination of stakeholder interviews, desk research and a review of behavioural science literature, the report identifies two main types of barrier to data linking within government:
- Resource limitations, including IT capacity, project management and staff time.
- Judgements of risk, reward and uncertainty, including misperceptions of the legal framework.
Informed by behavioural science, the report offers a range of practical solutions to these issues, including the provision of open-source software solutions, synthetic data prototypes, advice on legal gateways, and the embedding of ADR UK-funded data engineering experts within government departments.
ADR UK is already working with its partners in government and the wider research community to see how the report’s recommendations can be taken forwards.
Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said: “One of the most encouraging things about the behavioural insights report is it shows that, on the whole, key stakeholders within government and related organisations do appreciate the massive potential of linked administrative data to better inform policy and public service provision.
“However, they do not all currently feel able to deliver on this agenda within the limitations of resource, expertise, and prioritisation that they operate. We continue to explore where dedicated, expert, ring-fenced resource can help make routine administrative data linking for research a reality rather than a pipedream.
“ADR UK is well placed to provide that resource and expert support, with programmes such as our ground-breaking ‘Data First’ partnership with the Ministry of Justice establishing an impressive precedent.
“We will be working closely with our partners to take forward a number of recommendations from this report, so that more departments and related organisations across the UK – and ultimately, the public – can benefit from the ADR UK programme.”
Alex Sutherland, Chief Scientist at the Behavioural Insights Team and one of the report's authors, said: "Administrative data – far from being just a by-product of administration – is a central part of how we understand the impact of policies, particularly those that cut across departments. ADR UK's work – and indeed the long-term Economic and Social Research Council agenda on using administrative data – provides government, researchers and ultimately the public with more and better information in order to make better decisions."