The Life Course Centre has played a leading role in shaping administrative data access in Australia through our ongoing Data for Policy initiative. Our focus on leveraging administrative data for research and policy can be traced back to the start of the Life Course Centre in 2014.
We are well placed to continue to play a key role in bringing together relevant stakeholders, undertaking proof-of-concept projects, identifying new data directions and strategies, identifying new sources of data and enhancing evidence-based policy outcomes to improve the lives of those living in social and environmental disadvantage.
Since the inaugural Data for Policy event, several major changes have taken place in the Australian data landscape:
The establishment of the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. MADIP is a secure data asset combining information on health, education, government payments, income and taxation, employment, and population demographics (including the Census) over time. It was first established in 2015 and further developed between 2017 and 2020 through DIPA.
The establishment of agency-specific data assets such as the Australian Tax Office’s A-Life.
The development of state government data integration projects, such as the NSW government’s Data Analytics Unit (a Centre partner).
A number of projects looking at data assets for research purposes, including projects under the National Research Infrastructure Strategic Framework. The Australian Research Data Commons have funded projects in HASS Research Data Commons, and Supporting Indigenous Research Capability.
Establishment in 2018 of the Office of the National Data Commissioner within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet signalled a further awareness and elevation of the value of administrative data collected and held by Australian Government agencies and made available for research purposes.
State-based linkage services continue to expand in scale and scope under the Population Health Research Network (PHRN), funded by an initial $20m cash investment from the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and a $32m cash and in-kind investment from State and Territory governments from 2009-12 to establish the infrastructure, followed by repeated smaller investments since then.
There are a number of considerations currently at play in the data landscape:
The refunded Life Course Centre has been designed to include a much broader range of data, including geo-spatial data, biometric data, and addition of machine learning techniques to the Centre’s existing expertise in statistical analysis. As the types of data under consideration grow, and the data sets get significantly larger, modelling complex data becomes more challenging and demanding of existing infrastructures.
The Centre’s NGO partners and stakeholders are working towards linkage and analysis of their own data, including the possibility of linking NGO data to MADIP and/or state-based linkage infrastructures.
There is increasing interest in linking longitudinal and qualitative data to quantitative administrative data, for a fuller and richer picture over a longer period of time.
Large policy initiatives such as Closing the Gap and Safe & Supported have the need to track the success of initiatives. For these and other interventions, measuring success requires using a large range of data from a wide range of data custodians, including state and local governments, and service providers.
As the use of data gets more sophisticated, concerns arise in the community. A responsive and respectful approach is required towards project ethics, community consultation, ensuring a social licence for the work undertaken, and in particular the issue of Indigenous Data Sovereignty.
Greater use of linked data, and in particular multi-sectoral and multi-agency data, requires ensuring that the people using the data are highly trained and cognisant of all of the issues. This requires building the capacity of people in a collaborative way, and bringing together the expertise of multiple sectors. This includes building the capacity of communities to understand the way in which their administrative data is routinely used to support evidence based policy.
The history of Data for Policy
The Life Course Centre has hosted several Data for Policy events:
October 2014 Data Resource Workshop University of Melbourne
This workshop brought together senior representatives and partners from the Life Course Centre, Commonwealth and State government agencies, data custodians, data integration authorities and non-government organisations. The focus of the workshop was data integration, or data linkage, which involves combining data sets from different sources, to build more comprehensive data resources.
March 2015 Data for Policy Workshop Brisbane
This workshop brought together key data and policy stakeholders from Commonwealth Government agencies. Life Course Centre researchers worked with government stakeholders to identify questions of immediate policy priority and research projects that could use existing data. One of the projects arising from this was the NEET project (Not in Employment, Education or Training).
October 2016 Longitudinal Data Conference Canberra
The Department of Social Services and the Life Course Centre partnered in hosting the inaugural Longitudinal Data Conference in partnership with the Department’s National Centre for Longitudinal Data (October 2016). This was Australia’s first major public event to focus on survey and administrative longitudinal data, including the ways in which it can inform Australia’s social policy, and the key policy questions that should be driving the research agenda.
May 2017 Government Admin Data for Research Workshop Stanford University
The Life Course Centre, Stanford Center for Poverty and Inequality, and Children’s Data Network co-hosted an international workshop on government administrative data for research purposes at Stanford University, California. Stakeholders from Australian, American and Canadian universities and government agencies were in attendance. The workshop focused on increasing awareness on the opportunities, bounds, innovations and future directions of using government administrative data to solve policy-relevant questions across countries; and identifying competencies and capacity required to enable government administrative data to be used more widely and effectively. The workshop also shared experiences on addressing social licence for using administrative data, and strategies for communication and partnerships with government agencies.
August 2019 Data for Policy Workshop Canberra
This two-day workshop was framed around the opportunity represented by draft Commonwealth data sharing legislation being developed by the then new Office of the National Data Commissioner. As of 2022, that legislation is now in place, and data access and infrastructure issues have moved on from there. The Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA 2017–20), which powered much of the Commonwealth Department-based linked data analytics was showcased at this event, but DIPA was not re-funded after 2020. However, the Centre engaged in several notable projects through DIPA, particularly through the Social, Health and Welfare Analytical Unit (SHWAU). This included in projects in early childhood education and care, higher education, and the Adult Migrant English Program.