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Data Access, International

By Anna Schneider, ADRC-Scotland


Just before Christmas, a workshop on cross national research data took place at the Royal Statistical Society, which was organised by the German Data Forum and the UK Data Forum. With this German lean of the meeting, it seemed the obvious choice that I (as the German researcher in our team) represent the Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland on this occasion. Language-hopping proved an acrobatic challenge, though: I produced some rather awkward German sentences to amuse the German and Austrian attendees, I’m sure, when I talked with them during the breaks (perhaps getting up at 3.30am to catch the flight to London had something to do with that?). Despite this wee stumbling block, I found the discussions during the workshop and the given presentations very stimulating.

Comparison: Data Access in Germany and the UK

In the first session, Professor David Hand, Chair of the Board of the UK Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) and Dr. Stefan Bender, Vice Chair of the German Data Forum (RatSWD) provided a very useful overview of the German and the UK data centres. I believe both systems have points in their favour that we can learn from: where in the UK, the Administrative Data Centres function as mediators between researchers and the various data holders, in Germany, the data holders themselves have founded data centres. Stefan Bender described this as a bottom-up approach in which these centres are initially paid for by the data producers, many of which provide data for free to non-commercial researchers. Examples of such centres are the German Centre for Ageing (that conducts the Ageing Survey my PhD research was based on), the Socio-Economic Panel, Bundesbank, and the Federal Employment Agency. The data centres are presided over by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) whose 16 members (8 data producers, 8 data users) are elected by the scientific community every three years. The data forum's tasks are to advise on Census 2021 policy, data protection & research ethics, accreditation of new data centres, international networking, and mediation between researchers and data centres.

This data sharing movement in Germany makes a wide range of administrative data, survey data, and business data available. The downside of this approach seems that it is very hard, if not impossible, to link data from different centres. A further disadvantage that I see in this system is that researchers are embarking on the data request journey on their own, whereas in the UK, the ADRCs’ Data Research and Innovation Service can aid the application process greatly as people who have well-established connections to data holders and who know which form to fill out how.

Other topics discussed at the workshop were the feasibility of consent-based research in times of big data and the most recent developments in big data legislation. A report focusing primarily on the lively discussions following the presentations is available.

Overall, I found this a very useful, engaging exchange of perspectives and experiences, and it encouraged me to explore cross-national research opportunities with administrative data.

Logos of the 30 German Data Centres

The 30 German data centres (taken and adapted from the RatSWD website).

Written by Anna Schneider from ADRC-Scotland and published on the ADRN blog under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Published on 6 February 2017

Page last updated: 27/07/2018