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3 Tackling capacity constraints

We are identifying – and developing strategies to tackle – capacity constraints to generate more and better research about administrative justice in the UK.

Expanding the disciplinary base. The research capacity problems faced by socio-legal studies in general are particularly acute in relation to administrative justice. In part, this may be because administrative justice suffers from being seen as a fringe area of interest: not properly legal nor within mainstream research concerns of other disciplines. Yet administrative justice issues affect the interests of many who are currently insufficiently aware of this area.

For example, developments such as those highlighted by the Low Commission touch on redress issues for the most disadvantaged members of society and researchers concerned with deepening divides and disempowerment and poverty more generally are likely to find fruitful areas for administrative justice-related research.

As well as increasing capacity, extending the disciplinary research base will help provide new insights into the existing body of research and generate new avenues for work. The initiatives to be taken in this regard will include making direct contact with ‘new’ disciplines and work on methods issues especially relating to improving available information. We look for opportunities for cross-disciplinary involvement, especially in relation to the overlapping interests of economists, lawyers and  social policy experts.

Inter-disciplinary workshops on administrative justice. We organise workshops to bring together researchers in disciplines such as economics, management, politics, psychology, public administration, sociology and social policy. The workshops have three main objectives:

  1. to provide a vehicle for introducing the importance of administrative justice issues and current thinking about research priorities to those who are unfamiliar with the field
  2. to enable discussion of areas of interest and potential methods
  3. to assist identification of the best way to reach disciplines, such as relevant networks, potential key researchers, and conferences.

Workshops we have held include:

Benefit sanctions and inequalities

Initial decision-making and administrative internal review

Social security administration in Scotland

Researching users’ perspectives of administrative justice

Information. Policy makers need better information on the administrative justice system. However, the availability of information also affects the type of research that may be undertaken, and the attractiveness of this area to those in ‘new’ disciplines, such those who work with big data. There is also a question whether existing data sources, e.g those retained by the Data Archive, are being fully exploited and we will explore the amenability of existing datasets to secondary analysis from an administrative justice angle.

Capacity and better information. Vania Sena, Director of the ESRC Business and Local Government (‘the Centre’) based at Essex, is leading our work in relation to data infrastructure. The Centre will assist us by:

  • providing a physical facility where data on administrative justice are stored, managed and linked to additional datasets; giving researchers and other stakeholders safe access to data to develop their research
  • assisting in the design of training programmes to support the capability of researchers to analyse complex datasets (structured and unstructured)
  • operating as a hub for knowledge exchange activities to benefit researchers, local authorities and businesses. Vania Sena is working with ISER and other relevant centres, including the Administrative Data Research Centres (ADRCs), to explore how their work may assist access to data in relation to administrative justice in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Our associations will enable it to link these centres and relevant officials within administrative justice systems. A preliminary scoping study will be undertaken to identify the existence of data relevant to administrative justice across the public and private sectors and to determine how these may be collected, stored and made available in ways likely to be of widest benefit to the research community and other stakeholders.

Further information concerning those beyond the administrative justice system. Information from within the administrative justice system only touches those who are in the system. For a better understanding of matters such as unmet need for redress, data capturing the population at large is necessary. This is best achieved through large-scale nationally representative surveys, such as Understanding Society (run from ISER at Essex), which can pick up on individual circumstances and needs for redress. Longitudinal surveys are valuable here as they can show implications of those who do or do not have contact with the administrative justice system.

Training on data analysis, combination and linkage. We will work with centres such those mentioned above to develop training on data analysis and data combination and linkage relevant to administrative justice research with a view to developing a sustainable programme of training.

Engaging early career researchers. Developing ways to engage early career researchers (ECRs) across disciplines is an important priority. Working initially with our linked universities, we will explore the most fruitful ways to engage this group on a sustainable basis. Essex and other partner institutions are able to access funding to support further research and knowledge exchange activities, including Knowledge Transfer Partnerships which enable university researchers, including ECRs, to undertake innovative collaboration with stakeholder organisations such as charities/NGOs, local authorities and businesses. This might include work with a local authority or business assessing and analysing data relating to complaints handling or the quality of decision making.

Early career events. To stimulate the engagement of ECRs and research students, we will host or co-host events directed at these groups focusing on opportunities for research on administrative justice and covering substantive research and methods issues.

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