Briefing paper

Secure shouldn’t mean secret: a call for public policy schools to share, support, and teach data stewardship

Research methodology Research management Data collection Data processing Data protection Policy Stewardship

The public has long benefitted from researchers using individual-level administrative data (microdata) to answer questions on a gamut of issues related to the efficiency, effectiveness, and causality of programs and policies. However, these benefits have not been pervasive because few researchers have had access to microdata, and their tools, security practices, and technology have rarely been shared. With a clear push to expand access to microdata for purposes of rigorous analysis (Abraham et al., 2017; ADRF Network Working Group Participants, 2018), public policy schools must grapple with imperfect options and decide how to support secure data facilities for their faculty and students. They also must take the lead to educate students as data stewards who can navigate the challenges of microdata access for public policy research.

The benefits of microdata research for evidence-based policy have yet to be fully realized. Microdata and other big data are created at increasingly rapid rates, and computing power no longer stands as a limitation. Now, public policy schools must ensure that students emerge with the analytical skills and data stewardship knowhow to gain access to this data and responsibly use it for good. We suggest that, at a minimum, students graduate with an understanding of:

  • Common issues preventing data sharing and best practices about the five safes
  • Pros and cons of various data access settings
  • Tools and methods used to protect the security and privacy of microdata
  • A basic information technology lexicon
  • Skills, resources, and staffing models required to support microdata facilities, policy labs, or individual research
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