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Systems leadership

Learn more about how we're bringing improvements to data systems across Scotland.

Systems Leadership Framed Light Blue

Areas of work

Research Data Scotland was established by Scottish Government to facilitate access to data.

We are working with many organisations to improve the data access journey. Our role is to improve Scotland’s research data access services by bringing together data organisations, universities, researchers, and public bodies from across the data landscape to work as a single system and transform the way data is managed, and to provide systems leadership.

Areas we have been working on include: 

The Scottish Data for Research Alliance (SDRA) aims to steer the data system to deliver better population outcomes and continuous improvement, seizing opportunities and providing a forum for partners to identify and resolve system wide issues.

The SDRA is a collaboration between RDS, EPCC, National Records of Scotland (NRS), Public Health Scotland (PHS), the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) and the Scottish Government.

A subgroup of the SDRA, known as the Alliance Technical Group (ATG), was established in early 2023 to make technical innovations for the transformation of the data research processes in Scotland.

To date, they have reviewed the processes relating to the ingest, storage and linkage of data in the National Safe Haven and have collectively developed a new process which, once implemented, will improve the way we make public sector data available for research whilst keeping it safe and maintaining public trust.

Together with other RDS-led transformations, the technical changes will facilitate system-wide scalability, meaning researchers can have faster, more reliable access to an increasing amount of administrative data. These changes will also reduce the burden on some partner organisations.

An important part of the Scottish Government’s Health and Care Data Strategy was setting standards for the network of Safe Havens, that would better allow data sharing for research in the public good.

RDS chairs the Scottish Safe Havens Steering Group, which meets monthly and oversees the development of Scottish Safe Haven Network. The Group involves representatives:

Activities in this area are extensive and highlights include:

Capacity building through the first round of the Systems Development Fund.

Five projects were awarded over £760,000 across Regional Safe Havens to help them simplify systems, processes and services for the benefit of researchers and ultimately people living in Scotland. The projects support alignment across the safe havens, particularly in helping them to move to common technical standards.

We have been commissioned by Scottish Government to review the Safe Haven Charter. This will complement our shared vision of the future approach to federated data access across Scotland with the ambition of providing a coordinated access point for researchers accessing data held anywhere in the network as part of the Researcher Access Service and filling in geographical gaps in health data coverage.

Another key area of focus is leading or participating in DARE (Data and Analytics Research Environments) UK Driver projects. For example, the Health Informatics Centre at the University of Dundee led a project on Standardised Architecture for Trusted Research Environments (SATRE), which focused on establishing a standard specification, or definition, for safe havens otherwise known as Trusted Research Environments (TREs) as one of the foundations for a cohesive and interoperable network of TREs.

Over £2 million was awarded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s largest public funder of research, to fund five Driver Projects as part of the DARE UK programme. To further bolster our commitment to public engagement, RDS led on the patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) in three of these projects, working in partnership with several other organisations for each. As well as SATRE, we worked with researchers led by the team at the University of the West of England on Semi-Automated Checking of Research Outputs (SACRO) and will be contributing to TELEPORT: connecting researchers to big data at light speed, led by researchers at the University of Swansea.

RDS is developing an approach to using synthetic data in Scotland, recognising the untapped potential of this technique that allows researchers to test approaches while waiting for the necessary permissions to use actual data. RDS has set up and chairs the Scottish Synthetic Data Working Group to support an aligned strategy, we have developed for synthetic data production in Scotland. This will deliver improved and speedier access to this type of data for research. We have conducted user research to understand demand for synthetic data and engaged with the public to explore concerns. All of this background can be used to approach data controllers and Information Asset Owners to have conversations around the benefits and use cases of synthetic data.

As part of our capacity building work, we funded a project at The University of Edinburgh to review and evaluate methodology on how to measure the disclosure risks from synthetic data.

We also created a synthetic data fund with over £85,000 awarded to three organisations to investigate how artificial data can be used by researchers to improve and speed up research access to public sector datasets. Our aim is to use this learning to develop valuable synthetic data services for researchers.

  • Police Scotland will create a synthetic data set of incidents reported by the public and collected by their command and control system. The four-month project will produce a valuable data set documenting incidents based on real-life data across time, space, and categories comprising a significant amount of police response and call for service activity in Scotland. It will be helpful in managing future demand, as well as sharing valuable geospatial and temporal activity data with researchers.
  • SPHSU (Social and Public Health Sciences Unit) at the University of Glasgow will explore the scalable creation and linkage of synthetic data sources. The project will utilise the existing SIPHER Synthetic Population for individuals in Great Britain, a unique data set developed by researchers of the Systems Sciences in Health and Health Economics Research (SIPHER) Consortium.

    The data set provides a ‘digital twin’ enriched with a substantial amount of associated information for everyone in Scotland, England and Wales. The linkage to combine administrative data with the synthetic population data set will enable researchers and policymakers to gain insights into individuals' experiences, behaviours, intentions, or opinions, all while considering their interactions with institutional services.
  • Grampian Safe Haven (DaSH) - University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian will work with other safe havens to explore a standard approach to risk assessment of synthetic data. The project will deliver a defined governance pathway(s) for researchers to access synthetic data within secure environments. It will establish a common standard for the infrastructure and security standards of the secure environment required for synthetic data. This project will provide the first federated approach to the information governance, access and infrastructure around synthetic data.