On February 19, JRSA held the first in a series of training and technical assistance webinars on the use of administrative records. The webinar, designed to provide an overview of issues associated with the use of such records, was presented by Dr. Dennis Culhane, Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-Principal Investigator for the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy initiative.
Dr. Culhane began his presentation by defining administrative records as containing "data routinely gathered for operational or business purposes by public or private agencies." These data, he emphasized, are not collected for research purposes, and thus are not as "clean" as typical research datasets.
Dr. Culhane noted that there often are a number of challenges to accessing administrative records. He identified four types of barriers to obtaining these records: legal (including issues related to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA] for school records and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] for health-related records); political (agencies may not want to share information for a variety of reasons, such as "turf" issues); data (technical issues and concerns about data quality issues); and technical (need specific technical expertise to understand and analyze the data).
There are also a number of potential data quality issues associated with the use of administrative records. Dr. Culhane noted problems related to data coverage, data completeness and accuracy, and challenges with linking records across data systems. Regarding the last issue, there are two basic methods for linking records: deterministic, which involves exact matches based on common identifiers, and probabilistic, which are likely matches based on factors such as name and date of birth.
Dr. Culhane provided an example of the use of administrative records from his own work, a study of outcomes of youth exiting dependent or delinquent care in Los Angeles county. The study looked at data from a number of local administrative records systems, including mental health, jail, probation, substance abuse treatment, and secondary and post-secondary education.
He also described the project on which he is currently co-Principal Investigator, Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy. This project is designed to identify best practices in integrated data systems, and works with a network of integrated data systems in four states and six large cities and counties. The project will allow for analysts to address a number of policy questions with multisite projects that make use of these integrated data systems.
The webinar, Issues in Using Administrative Records, can be viewed on JRSA's Web site (http://www.jrsa.org/webinars/index.html). More information on the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy project can be found on the project Web site (www.aisp.upenn.edu). JRSA's next webinar on administrative records, scheduled for April 11 at 2:00 p.m. (EDT), will feature presentations by the Illinois and Vermont SAC directors on their use of administrative records systems.