Before starting a data project, there are several questions you'll need to address to determine the purpose of your analysis and to assess your ability to fully implement the project.
Lately there's been increased excitement and interest in better harnessing administrative data for program improvement. In fact, this was the central recommendation of the recently passed Bipartisan Evidence-Based Policy Commission Act and it's one of the goals of the TANF Data Collaborative. So, what's all this buzz about administrative records? In a recent article for the journal Evaluation Review, we wrote about some of the benefits of using administrative data (in comparison to survey data):
- They are cheap. Although administrative records can sometimes be difficult to obtain, and negotiations for data access may require high upfront investments, once data access is granted, the marginal costs of collecting and analyzing more follow-up data are quite low.
- They are easy to process. Administrative records are also relatively easy to process compared to survey data which often contains a lot of 'free response' fields.
- They contain a lot of records. Administrative records are usually available for larger samples, from a centralized data source, rather than tracking and maintaining many individuals' contact information for a survey, which can be expensive and labor-intensive.
- They are usually more accurate. Administrative records have a good memory! These records don't suffer from some of the biases of survey data, including nonresponse bias and recall problems. Administrative data are subject to audit and appeals giving them greater accuracy.
- They can provide rapid feedback on performance. Administrative records are much better data sources for rapid turnaround evaluations, which have been popular in recent years.
Administrative records aren't perfect, and surveys have some major benefits and we'll talk about some of the pros and cons of survey data for human services in future posts. Want to use administrative records more but can't access them? TDC can help you access administrative records through our Data Access technical assistance. Have access but want to learn how to analyze them? Consider signing up for the applied data analytics course or check out our other tools and resources on our Analyzing Data page.