Announcing the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-based Policy

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Mock up image of the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-based Policy
Photo: J-PAL

In our digital world, data is constantly being collected and stored during the everyday functions of governments, non-profit organizations, and private firms. This “administrative data” offers tremendous potential to improve lives through better social policies, but is often underutilized. J-PAL’s Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative (IDEA) is working to change that. 

IDEA is excited to announce the release of the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-Based Policy co-edited by Shawn Cole, Iqbal Dhaliwal, Anja Sautmann, and Lars Vilhuber


Starting September 28, 2020, join the IDEA Handbook Webinar Series, featuring presentations of each chapter by the author(s), and a live Q&A session. Find out more about our fall 2020 schedule of webinars, and sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and webinar invitations.

IDEA aims to increase the use of administrative data for evidence-informed decision-making by supporting governments, firms, and non-profit organizations (“data providers”) who want to make their administrative data accessible; analyze it to improve decision-making; and partner with researchers in using this data to design innovative programs, evaluate program impact through randomized experiments, and scale up successful programs. The new Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-Based Policy is a comprehensive resource for data collaborations.

How can the Handbook help you understand and use administrative data?

For policymakers looking to collaborate with researchers to make administrative data accessible, analyze it to improve decision-making, or leverage it to design and evaluate innovative programs, the Handbook features examples of successful partnerships between researchers and national governments, local governments, and private firms. 

For researchers interested in conducting innovative evaluations and utilizing the unique information provided by administrative data, the Handbook includes case studies of large-scale randomized evaluations using private and national government administrative data, and technical guidance to support partnerships with governments, nonprofits, or firms to access data and pursue cutting-edge, policy-relevant projects.

For data providers, the Handbook offers practical guidance on the tools and techniques available to protect data privacy while also gaining valuable insights into programs, policies, and operations. For example, the technical chapters offer in-depth information on how to negotiate a Data Use Agreement, ensure privacy and security, and collaborate with an ethics review board

Contents of the Handbook

The Handbook represents the knowledge of 41 authors with expertise in the access and use of administrative data. The Handbook’s five technical chapters and ten case studies provide information, best practices, and real-world examples on how to create privacy-protected access to administrative data. An introduction by the Handbook editors draws out key themes of the administrative data landscape. 

The case study chapters provide compelling examples of innovative approaches to sharing administrative data across a range of data providing institutions and research organizations, each showcasing one or more of the following:

  1. How to access and create innovative datasets by combining data sources or making completely new data usable. See chapters by the Private Capital Research Institute and Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) in the Research Group of the World Bank.
  2. Mutually beneficial partnerships that lead to innovative research projects, answer pressing policy questions or help the data provider understand their own data better. Examples in the Handbook include the International Monetary Fund, the City of Cape Town, South Africa, the Stanford-San Francisco Unified School District Partnership, and the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data, and Training
  3. A process of finding innovative, robust, and scalable solutions to technical, financial, legal, or ethical challenges. The Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Germany, and the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive in the United States are among the examples highlighted in the Handbook. This approach leads to sustainable access to administrative data that does not rely on just one research team or the personal championship of one individual in the partner organization. 
  4. The novel use of administrative data in conducting randomized evaluations that utilize only administrative data or link administrative data with survey data. The Handbook chapters featuring partnerships with Aurora Health Care and the Government of Indonesia showcase innovative randomized evaluations using administrative data. 

The technical chapters contribute expert perspectives on the legal, ethical, and technical challenges of data sharing. This section of the handbook contains practical guidance on negotiating data use agreements, collaborating with institutional review boards to address ethical concerns and ensure the protection of human subjects during research with administrative data, and protecting data security with physical, statistical, and differential privacy tools. 

See a full list of chapters and authors here. 

IDEA will build on the publication of the Handbook by engaging with policy partners and researchers to build capacity on administrative data use, and support the launch of IDEA Labs at J-PAL regional offices that partner directly with governments to address gaps in data use capacity, analyze data, design innovative solutions, and evaluate and scale successful programs. Stay tuned for the launch of our first IDEA Lab in India. 

For more information on the IDEA initiative, please visit our page or contact Evan Williams with questions. To read the Handbook online and order a print copy (coming soon), visit the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-Based Policy.

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