• December 2016
  • Vol. 17, No. 9

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Using Administrative Data to Inform Program Improvement

State and Federal agencies daily collect administrative data, with much of it consisting of official information regarding participants in agency programs and services. A new issue brief from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Using Administrative Data in Social Policy Research— examines how data collected primarily for reporting purposes also can be used for program assessment and improvement.

Based on presentations made at a meeting on innovative methods that was organized by OPRE in the fall of 2015, this brief discusses the potential benefits and drawbacks of using administrative data for research purposes. The following are examples of the successful use of administrative data:

  • Using administrative records to map the resources available to support young children through public and nonprofit providers in a major metropolitan area as a means to coordinate family services, which resulted in savings of $3 in future health expenditures for every $1 invested
  • Using student-level administrative records from public schools to inform a large-scale high school reform effort in New York City that resulted in increased graduation rates, college readiness, and postsecondary enrollment and in reduced costs for school per high school graduate
  • Using administrative health data to identify effective approaches to reducing expenditures without degrading the quality of care

Challenges to using administrative data also were discussed, including issues related to data access, respondent privacy, and the strategic investment of resources, as well as the legal, technical, and political barriers to sharing data. An area of particular emphasis was the importance of understanding privacy rules and administrative data systems and variables. Presenters also discussed current Federal efforts to integrate administrative data into program planning and evaluation and how to effectively utilize the large amount of data that government agencies collect for program improvement purposes as well as accountability.

This brief is available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/promises_and_challenges_20160809_508_compliant.pdf (173 KB).


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