Understanding Integrated Data Systems

November 20, 2015 10:22 am

We recently came across this short video produced by the Children’s Data Network, an initiative out of the University of Southern California that “use(s) integrated administrative data to develop applied and actionable research projects, support cost-effective program evaluations, and attend to policy-relevant questions from partner agencies and other stakeholders.”

The video is a great visual explanation of what integrated data systems do. Each of us goes through life supported by public services in various ways: when we’re born, as we enter school, if we get into trouble, as we become legal adults who vote and drive, and as we enter the workforce. Each of these interactions with public agencies generates records that usually pile up in a folder in the basement of the DMV or Human Services, only used internally within that agency if we have a continuing case.

Integrated data systems break down those silos and actually put those piles of paper to work, by linking administrative records across various agencies and public services. Your records, once linked and de-identified from your name, become one “case” among many others which can be used to understand broader processes across the life course. These cases can shed light on many questions we have about social equality and program efficacy. For example, we can better understand whether most children who interact with Child Welfare services go on to perform differently in school, if most young people who graduate from college in four years will earn more than their counterparts who take 6 years, or if adults involved in workforce training programs have better employment outcomes over the long term.

Such longitudinal studies are a standard part of social science research, but they are expensive and take a long time to produce findings. Looking at records that are continuously generated by people every day is a more efficient way to study long-term cause-and-effect relationships. At DataSpark we are excited about putting our administrative data holdings to work for researchers like Brown economist Dr. Anna Aizer, or Urban Institute Fellow Dr. Akiva Liberman, both of whom evaluate the effects of various youth experiences on life outcomes and long-term public costs.

So check out the video if you are totally flummoxed about the use of “big data” for the public good—it’s a simple explanation of a complex subject.