Interdisciplinary research with the potential to inform policymaking received a huge boost on Sept. 21 with the dedication of a new University of Wisconsin-Madison Federal Statistical Research Data Center, or FSRDC, on the UW campus.
The data enclave, the only such facility in the state, is a branch location of an existing FSRDC at the University of Minnesota, making Wisconsin part of a revolution in social science research in which growing access to individual records for economic and household censuses, linked to public administrative data, has the potential to significantly improve the analysis of public policies and programs, thereby informing and supporting evidence-based policymaking.
“A Research Data Center can be viewed as a mutually beneficial collaboration between the Census Bureau and university researchers,” explains UW-Madison agricultural and applied economics professor Brent Hueth, director of the new FSRDC branch. “Through RDCs, the Census Bureau provides researchers with greater access to data, while we in turn can provide improved data quality and the possibility of new insights that will benefit data users and the broader public.”
The effort epitomizes the UW’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea of producing academic research knowledge that informs a broad range of real-world challenges. The new Madison FSRDC will enable researchers to conduct new and deeper analyses of, for example, the effectiveness of public programs for helping low-income families become economically self-sufficient, the best methods for helping first-generation college students succeed in school and complete a degree, drivers of new business startups, and the effect of state and federal fiscal policy on macroeconomic performance.
It will also enable campus researchers to better study and quantify aspects of the food and agricultural economy—something Hueth plans to contribute to.
“I’m interested in what’s going on in rural areas, and in the cooperative business model that is so important to the agricultural sector. I’m excited to dig into the data that’s now available and help extend its relevance to these areas,” says Hueth.
A Census RDC equips researchers with access to data about individuals across a range of areas, including employment and employers; income, public program use and education level; and information about business formation and ongoing operations. At the same time, it protects individual, business and family confidentiality with state-of-the-art tools.
Created in a partnership between UW-Madison and the FSRDC Network, the center offers great potential for interdisciplinary research. At the UW-Madison alone, participating researchers come from six colleges and schools on campus: Agricultural and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Human Ecology, Letters & Science, and Medicine and Public Health.
The FSRDC will also serve researchers at other UW System campuses, Wisconsin state government departments, and the state’s rapidly expanding network of social science researchers around the country who are accessing confidential microdata to work toward making the world a better place for everyone.