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"The prospects are unlimited" - An interview with Sir Ian Diamond

Professor Sir Ian Diamond is Chair of the independent Approvals Panel which decides whether research projects can proceed. He talks about the Network’s progress, and the challenges we face.

What’s your background and why did you want to take this post?

I was seriously honoured to be invited. I’m a social statistician who’s worked for many years with large data sets, and I knew that some of the most exciting advances in this field would come from being able to link data.

Administrative data offers enormous opportunities and economies of scale.

What is the panel’s role?

The panel has an enormously important but equally very defined role. The importance lies in the fact that we represent a group of scholars across the social sciences, data owners and critically members of the public. Our role is to identify first that the work is properly feasible, and that the skills within the research team are appropriate. Secondly, that this work can be seen to be in the public benefit. We have a public benefit paragraph that we write for each project. Thirdly, we check that the work has ethical approval. Others do that [at the researcher’s institution]. We don’t second guess their views, we ensure that they have approval. Finally, they can’t go ahead without the data owner’s permission. I’ve been incredibly impressed with their integrity and with the work they’re putting in. we meet once a month.

Are you seeing some interesting research questions coming through?

It’s been inspirational. We’ve only been going for a little over a year and already we’ve had some really exciting projects, using a cornucopia of administrative data, some of it linked to survey, health,education and migration data – in ways that couldn’t have been done in my research lifetime.

Is there anything you haven’t seen which you hope to see covered by research in the future?

I’m really excited to know that data from UCAS will soon be available to be linked with data – it ought to be possible – from the National Pupil Database. That could address some enormously exciting questions about widening participation and the decision to go to university.

What is the potential for this type of research?

Unlimited. I’ve always believed we could address questions using administrative data that we couldn’t address any other way. It’s not that we don’t now need survey data. The prospects are unlimited. The richness will come from links with survey data. Administrative data is great, but not attitudinal.Ethnicity, for example, would be quite simple, and sometimes you need more complexity. We will still need social surveys, and to ask people questions.

What do you see are the main challenges for the Network?

I think the main challenges for the Network are to make people aware of the opportunities. Things have gone really well. I hope soon things will scale up to the level where we have to prioritise. There are some great researchers out there, and we have to move people’s agenda onto administrative data.

We need some great exemplars, case studies, of questions we could previously only have dreamt about answering. The other thing is we need to encourage the breadth of researchers’ skill base.

Recently, we’ve seen economics questions from PhD students. It’s great that people embarking on PhDs see this as an opportunity.

What are the main Network successes to date?

For the panel, we have worked hard to develop a modus operandi which is smooth.

For the network as a whole, the four directors have done a great job of linking together.

And a huge pat on the back should go to our colleagues at Essex for the smoothness of how they’ve got the organisation going and made a real difference.

Are you happy you took on the role?

100%.It’s a privilege, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s been very busy.


Written by Administrative Data Service staff and published on the ADRN blog under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Images used with permission.

Published on 15 September 2016

Page last updated: 27/07/2018