J-PAL North America Resources for Obtaining and Using Administrative Data

In the last scene of the iconic 1981 Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, an anonymous bureaucrat locks a priceless treasure into a crate and wheels it into a vast government warehouse, where it will presumably languish in obscurity indefinitely.

Administrative data from countless government agencies and large institutions can sometimes feel similarly inaccessible.

Hospitals, governments, school systems, and other institutions gather a wealth of information on individuals for purposes other than research.

In the 21st century, these treasures are now often collected and stored digitally. As the White House recently highlighted, accessing this data for research purposes can open up a world of possibilities. Federal, state, and local governments are slowly making strides to facilitate access to this valuable data.

When handled properly, with appropriate privacy safeguards and other precautions, this data can be an excellent source of information for use in research and impact evaluation. These treasures can lower the costs of research, create more possibilities for long-term follow-up, and improve the accuracy of study findings.

It is hard to overstate the transformational potential this data can have for researchers seeking to determine what works – and what does not – in social policies relating to the public welfare in areas such as health care, housing, education, and criminal justice.

Large and complex data sets offer a wealth of information that can open doors to new discovery, but navigating the processes for using this data can be a huge challenge.

To help researchers in accessing data, J-PAL North America has developed a new guide that provides practical guidance on how to obtain and use nonpublic administrative data for a randomized evaluation and a catalog of key U.S. data sets with procedures on how to access data based on information provided by the originating agencies.admindata

Evidence Wrap-Up: Evaluations in North America

At J-PAL North America, we focus on catalyzing and supporting randomized evaluations of social programs.  We also want to make what we have learned from our rigorous evaluations actionable for policymakers so that they can act on the best available evidence about what works best and why.

Over the past few years, researchers affiliated with J-PAL have conducted more than 100 ongoing or completed randomized control trials to answer critical policy questions in North America, as well as hundreds more around world.  A rich database of these evaluations is available here.

We recently put together a “wrap-up” highlighting the findings of over forty key randomized evaluations, organized by topics such as crime preventioneducationlabor markets, and health care.

You can view a summary of some of these key findings in our “Evidence Wrap-Up” here.


Welcome and Introduction

This is an exciting time at J-PAL North America.  As the newest office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, J-PAL North America is rapidly expanding its work promoting evidence-based policymaking in North America.

Increasingly, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels seek rigorous evidence on what works and why in the fight to combat poverty, improve schools, promote health, and address other social issues.

To address these needs, J-PAL North America – which is based at MIT — catalyzes and supports randomized evaluations, communicates evidence to help translate research into action, and helps policymakers build capacity to create and use rigorous evidence.

By ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence, J-PAL North America works to reduce poverty and improve lives.

Last month, J-PAL introduced a new website at www.povertyactionlab.org to provide faster access to evidence, policy lessons, and research resources.

Today, J-PAL North America is excited to launch a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, and this blog.

We hope that these tools will provide additional ways of communicating with policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders in North America.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight our ongoing work, including our new State & Local Innovation Initiative, our Health Care Delivery Initiative, and our General Research Initiative.

We will also use this space to explain some of what we have learned from past research studies, and pass on some policy lessons.

We will also highlight helpful tools for researchers and policymakers, such as our new administrative data guide.

We are excited about these new tools, and hope you will check back frequently, as well as follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.