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A partner’s perspective on collaborating to develop the Researcher Access Service

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Blog posts

Michael Sibley | Average reading time 3 minutes

27 Jun 2024

We hear our partner’s perspective from electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS), which is part of Public Health Scotland, on collaborating to create and manage the Researcher Access Service.

Written by Michael Sibley, Service Manager at Public Health Scotland.

For those of you not familiar with what a Public Health Scotland Service Manager does, my role is broad and covers service operations (finances, staffing, planning etc.) and service management (customers relations, communications etc.). I look at all our projects and developments from a little distance, whereas our Programme Portfolio Managers, Information Consultants, Research Coordinators and Analysts will live them day in and day out.

With distance comes perspective, or at least I like to think so. Having not been too closely involved with the development of the Researcher Access Service, I can offer these thoughts.

Firstly, I’ve been impressed by how my team got stuck in. I’ll be honest, at first I was concerned that here was this new organisation, scrutinising our processes; how would people respond? How would I feel? I try to take a dispassionate approach about processes. They are vital, but just a means to an end goal, which in our case is guiding researchers through the process of applying for data, extracting data and providing a safe environment for accessing that data.

However, one thing I’ve learnt is that we are all different and, as such, approach and view the world in very different ways. Something one person might consider as a means to an end might represent a significant emotional investment for others. A system that they have helped develop, lovingly crafted and use daily. How could it not be the best possible system? In 2022 eDRIS moved from networked document storage to using Sharepoint. A significant task given the number of documents we hold and not without a number of pain points and frustrations. Even my ‘Spock-esque’ mindset was tested to it limits as I occasionally fondly reminisced over the files and folders approach that I first encountered working in the 90s.

With this in mind, the development of the Researcher Access Service filled me with some measure of trepidation. How would people react? Would they consider this something imposed on them?

A number of things happened that allayed my fears. Firstly, Research Data Scotland (RDS) sought to understand us, how eDRIS works. eDRIS is a service with many ‘nooks and crannies’ as I describe it. No two projects are alike and there are so many pathways that the team need to follow. RDS and digital agency Nexer took time to understand our processes, not as an idealised pathway but how things work in the real world. Meetings were set up where processes were discussed involving a wide range of pathways. Staff were involved and attendance and engagement was really good. People genuinely felt part of the change, part of the improvement process. It’s difficult to overstate what it means to people to have a say and be involved when going through such a change. Meetings were packed and sessions well attended, which was good for eDRIS and must be good for RDS also in hearing voices from across our service. 

This has culminated with a system that one team member described as a ‘thing of beauty’, allowing research projects to be tracked long their journey. Tasks are visible to all those staff in eDRIS working on Researcher Access Service projects, reducing the risk delay due to absence and allowing balancing of workloads.

So, with the launch of Researcher Access Service, this is not the end of the journey but the beginning of a new approach that together we will expand and develop further. There will always be pain points in anything new, but my trepidation is gone, and I look forward to what is in store next. 

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