Dialogue on Data

Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to conduct a public dialogue examining the public's views on using linked administrative data for research purposes.

Dialogue on Data

Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to conduct a public dialogue examining the public’s views on using linked administrative data for research purposes, and to explore the operational and communications plans of the new ESRC-funded Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) that was set up in late 2013. The aim was to examine the public’s views on using linked administrative data for research purposes, and specifically to explore the operational and communications plans of the new ESRC-funded Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) that was set up in late 2013. The dialogue formed part of the wider Public Attitudes to Science project, which collected quantitative data about the public’s views on the uses of big data. The dialogue found low initial awareness of and familiarity with social science research and its methods. At the beginning of the dialogues, this low awareness drove scepticism about the value of social research. Questions were also were posed as to why the ADRN is necessary, as participants had assumed that government administrative data is already linked and shared across departments and services. This scepticism was challenged by reading case studies and hearing from working social scientists about the numerous uses and impacts of social science research.

There were also concerns about operational aspects of the ADRN initiative, though the strict processes that will be in place at the ADRCs reassured. By the end of the second day of dialogue, most participants had concluded that they supported administrative data linkage via the ADRN, if three main conditions were met:

  • The data is fully de-identified as per the process described in the workshops
  • The data is kept secure at all times
  • The data is linked for socially beneficial purposes, broadly defined

In many cases, participants needed extensive information and discussions with experts and researchers in order to be satisfied that these conditions would be met by the ADRN. Participants also indicated that the public should be consulted before any extension of the scope of the ADRN, particularly with relation to access to linked administrative data by private companies in order to help them make a profit.

Technical note:

The dialogue encompassed members of the general public (136 in total) within a mixture of age, gender and ethnicity who were broadly representative of each area, each of whom attended two day-long events. A deliberative, dialogue method was considered the optimal approach to allow participants to explore participants’ views on this complex area. It is particularly useful when participants are unfamiliar with a topic, in this case academic social research and the uses of large administrative datasets. As a result, participants were exposed to a range of different from the social science research community, and were invited to discuss case studies where administrative data has already been used.

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