BLOG - Why is working with administrative data important?

This blog reflects on my experience of training the latest members of ADR Scotland's Public Panel- explaining what administrative data is and why working with it is important.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is information created when people interact with public services, such as the National Health Service (NHS), the Fire and Rescue Service or education sector. All public bodies keep records of these interactions for operational purposes:

  • to enable them to carry out their day-to-day work
  • to monitor and improve their performance 
  • to keep providing services in an effective way

This wealth of data, whilst not originally created for research, but as a by-product of services, has the potential to provide powerful insights into people, our society and help identify areas where change is needed, such as in health, education or transport.

A useful video to learn more about administrative data can be found here (

What are the advantages of administrative data research?

Unlike survey data, for example, which is limited to those who choose to take part and can sometimes mean some groups of people are underrepresented, or missed completely - administrative datasets include information on everyone who comes into contact with that public service, and can give more insight into other groups of people who could be underrepresented by other methods.

One of its biggest benefits, however, is when administrative data can be linked to other data, such as the census and other public sector data. This can lead to research that helps our understanding of society by creating a fuller picture of interactions with different public services and outcomes over time, helping to identify where change is needed to improve people’s lives.

Working with administrative data

In order for researchers to access and work with administrative data, there is robust training in place such as the Safe Researcher Training. There are also restrictions on where data can be accessed safely and securely. Therefore it is essential that all data used is accessed securely, either via the Scottish National Safe Haven or by visiting one of the locations that has a SafePod.

It is also always important to remember the wider context and people behind this data. It is a great privilege to be involved in analysing social data for public good. As a researcher with lived experience of poor mental health, remembering the people behind the data and making sure they're represented as best as they can be through public engagement and ethical use of data is something I'm passionate about.

This article was published on 23 May 2022


Michelle Jamieson