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UK Data Service receives funding for new Big Data network centre

Article dated: 10 October 2013

The UK Data Service at the University of Essex has been awarded funding to form a new service for streamlining research access to Big Data collected by government departments and other agencies.

The award by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) of almost £5 million, will allow data experts at the University of Essex to ensure that researchers across the country can effectively and securely access large datasets for research that will directly influence policy and ultimately benefit the public.

At the heart of the project will be the new Administrative Data Service (ADS), led by the UK Data Service. The ADS is being jointly formed with the Administrative Data Liaison Service, which is currently managed by the University of St Andrews.

The ADS infrastructure will provide a one-stop-shop for finding, learning about, and requesting access to administrative data for research.

Melanie Wright, Principal Investigator of the new ADS and Associate Director of the UK Data Service, explained the importance of today's announcement: "Research access to administrative and linked data holds enormous potential – for researchers, for government, and for the people of the UK. You cannot make or evaluate public policy without using administrative data.

The partners in the UK Data Service have decades of experience in managing research access to all types of data as well as established networks among key stakeholders. These will enable us to bring a dynamic and responsive approach to this initiative that will aid the Government's Big Data ambitions as well as further research in the public interest."

This Administrative Data Network, consisting of the ADS and four new Administrative Data Research Centres (ADRCs), marks the first phase of the ESRC's £64 million investment in a Big Data Network. Two further phases involving new centres for business and local government data, and third sector and social media data, will be established in the coming year.

The ADS will play an overarching role in the network, actively bringing together the four ADRCs. Its core responsibilities will be:

  • to provide a first point of contact for administrative data users and owners
  • be the central point for managing research access requests
  • ensure there is consistency in standards and practice across the network
  • engage with data owners, users and the public to develop a culture of effective and secure data sharing to enable better research for the public benefit
  • to develop capacity and skills in using administrative data for research.

Professor Matthew Woollard, a Co-Investigator of the ADS and Director of the UK Data Service, said: "This is a profoundly important initiative which will help in untangling the legal and security issues relating to the use of routinely produced administrative data. The UK Data Service is hugely proud to have been selected to undertake this coordination role. We expect this to be the beginning of a new dawn for empirically-driven policy-relevant research and place the UK at the forefront of the use of administrative data."

Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex, Professor Anthony Forster added: "It is hugely gratifying that Essex has been chosen to play such a lead role in this immensely important project. It is a reflection of our reputation for excellence in research and specifically as the UK's leading social science university."

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