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Ensuring a public voice in data research

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Blog posts

Katie Oldfield

22 Feb 2024

Our public panel helps to inform research and the use of administrative data in Scotland. Discover some of the topics covered by the panel and why it is vital to our work in this blog by Katie Oldfield, Public Engagement Manager.

In 2023, Research Data Scotland (RDS) joined with the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) to jointly run a public panel – Scotland Talks Data, which gives people living in Scotland a chance to offer their views about data and forms part of our organisations' commitment to public engagement.

The panel enables researchers to share and shape their research, answer any questions that the panel may have and listen to their feedback. It is also a platform that allows people from RDS, SCADR and Scotland's Safe Havens to present and receive feedback on their processes and use of data more broadly. It helps to ensure that the use of public sector data in Scotland is for the public good and to improve how we communicate what we do with data.

In August 2023, we recruited new members to the panel and you can read more about that in this blog by the Scotland Talks Data co-chair Harriet Baird.

Getting started

To the majority of our panel members, research data is a completely new area so all participants started off by attending online training sessions with myself and Harriet. Our training was designed to give our panel the knowledge and confidence to participate fully in future sessions.

During this training we covered:

  • What is public sector data?
  • Roles of RDS and SCADR
  • How data is kept safe - such as through the Five Safes framework
  • Role of the panel

We set aside time at the start of our first session to establish a Code of Conduct. All the members of the panel were asked to input into this agreement, and it covers how we address each other, respect alternative viewpoints and contribute in meetings. During the meetings we will be asking the panel to share their opinions. It’s important to create an online space where they feel comfortable to share their views, ask questions and are respectful to others in the meeting. This is a key aspect of any public engagement work to ensure that participants have the freedom and are empowered to take part in discussions or activities.

We also involve the members in decisions on how the panel works. We’ll be finding out from them how they want to receive information and feedback on the impact of their work as well as how they would like sessions to run.

What do the panel talk about?

The panel will meet online five times a year and people from RDS and SCADR, as well as researchers and organisations will attend meetings to discuss their work.

In the first session in November, our panel heard from RDS about early proposals for transformations to how data is accessed. This was a big topic for their first session, with technical as well as information governance aspects. Our panel asked very insightful questions around how we verify researchers and decide on which data is made available. These questions will help inform the work of RDS as we progress with these plans, taking into account what this sample of the public think about this process.

In our February meeting, we will be asking the panel for feedback on animations which are being produced to explain Trusted Research Environments, synthetic data and data linkage. Some panel members have also been involved with writing the scripts for the animations whilst the wider group will give feedback on pace and style. Involving public members throughout a process in this way ensures we are using language which is clear and producing content that is engaging. During the February session they will also discuss the work of researchers looking at mental health and policing in Scotland.

You will be able to keep up to date with the topics covered in our Scotland Talks Data sessions on the website.

One of the exciting bits about working with SCADR on the public panel is that our members get to hear about all aspects of the process - from how we decide what data is available for research and the processes used keep that data safe, to how researchers communicate their work publicly.

I’m looking forward to working with and getting to know our panel. Building a panel of people who have never met before and establishing a shared purpose takes time and planning, so it’s been fantastic receiving feedback from members about how much they have learnt and enjoyed the sessions so far. Bringing together different people from across Scotland is important to ensure we have a public voice influencing our work and our panel is a key step towards that.

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