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Research for public good

Learn about the concept of public good and what evidence researchers must submit to show that their research will benefit the public.

What do we mean by public good?

When we refer to ‘public good’, also known as public benefit, it means that there should be some ‘net good’ accruing to the public; it has both a benefit aspect and a public aspect. The benefit aspect requires the achievement of good, not outweighed by any associated risk.

Good is interpreted in a broad and flexible manner and can be direct, indirect, immediate, or long-term. Benefit needs to be identifiable, even if it cannot be immediately quantified or measured. The public aspect requires demonstrable benefit to accrue to the public, or a section of the public.

Further information can be found on this blog post by the National Data Guardian.

What evidence must researchers provide in order to access data?

Data must be used ethically, for research that delivers clear public benefit.

As part of their application, researchers are asked to provide an overview of their project, including how the data will be used and what outputs will be achieved.

For access to data to be granted, researchers need to demonstrate that their proposal is an appropriate and that a suitable authority has considered their ethical use of the data, that it will deliver clear public benefits and that they will publish their results to enable use, scrutiny, and further research.

This is a key component of The Five Safes framework, a set of principles which enable data services to provide safe research access to data. These principles relate to data, projects, people, settings, and outputs. 

How is public good assessed for the Researcher Access Service?

All applications for access to data must conform to the principles in the Five Safes framework.

Users are led through a multi-stage process and must submit evidence to show that:  

1. Their application meets all the required criteria, which includes:

  • Approval from an ethics committee or panel
  • Evidence the conclusions of their research will be peer reviewed by an appropriate body
  • Funding through a recognised organisation
  • A declaration that details of the application can be shared on a public register 

2. They understand the implications of breaching the user agreement that forms part of the application process.

On the specific question of public good, users are asked to describe the area of public good their application aligns with and provide a statement of benefits. These are listed below for reference.

A designated RAS Approval Panel is responsible for assuring that the required evidence is in place. The panel will check that the area(s) of public good the researcher has selected align with their statement of public good and the application as a whole, and that the benefits stated are clear and unambiguous. 

If there is any doubt, the approvers can query what has been submitted, or choose to reject the application. 

Public good definitions

Researchers are asked to align their research project with one or more of the following areas:

  • Help the system to better understand the health and care needs of populations
  • Lead to the identification or improvement of treatments or interventions  or health and care system design  to improve health and care outcomes or experience
  • Help to manage the response to communicable diseases and other risks to public health  such as pandemic planning and research
  • Advance understanding of regional and national trends in health and social care needs
  • Advance understanding of the need for or effectiveness of preventative health and care measures for particular populations or conditions such as obesity and diabetes
  • Better inform those planning health services and programmes for example initiatives to improve equity of access experience and outcomes in the short or long term
  • Inform decisions about how to effectively allocate and evaluate funding according to health needs
  • Support knowledge creation or exploratory research (and the innovations and developments that might result from that exploratory work)
  • Advance understanding of the needs of carers supporting family members
  • Evidence base for public policy decision-making
  • Evidence base for public service delivery
  • Replication validation or challenge existing research
  • Improve the quality coverage or presentation of existing statistical information 

Further information

National Data Guardian

Further information on public good can be found on this blog post by the National Data Guardian. 

Public Benefit and Privacy Panels (PBPP)

Find out more about the application process for the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel for Health and Social Care (HSC-PBPP) and the Statistics Public Benefit and Privacy Panel (S-PBPP)

Research Data Scotland (RDS)

Complete our pre-application checklist to understand what is involved in a data access request and how to compete the enquiry form

More resources

How RDS works with eDRIS

Discover how we work together with our eDRIS colleagues to provide data access support.

Discover eDRIS support

Information governance for researchers

Discover key principles and legal considerations of information governance (IG) when accessing data.

Learn about IG

Trusted Research Environments

There are a range of trusted research environments (TREs) in Scotland providing access to secure data. 

Find out more about TREs

Research data security

Find help for navigating data security as you work with secure and sensitive data for your research project.

Learn about data security

Researcher approvals and training

Find details on approved organisations in the UK, mandatory training for researchers and additional requirements.


Find more details

Terminology for researchers

Our list of common terms will help you understand more about how public sector data is used for research.

Learn the terminology

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