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Five minute profile: interview with Allan Johnstone

Profile image of Allan Johnstone
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

18 Jan 2024

Our Operations Director Allan Johnstone gives us some insight into his work at RDS, and the essential role our Operations team play in supporting our colleagues, systems and organisational culture.

What’s your role at RDS and what does a typical workday involve?  

I’m the Operations Director here at Research Data Scotland. This means I lead on ensuring our people are supported, building our systems and culture, and checking how we’re performing – all to keep us on track to deliver what we’ve promised.  

Like everyone at RDS, each day is different and can take me from interviewing potential new staff members to looking at income and budgets, through to designing our team away days and building KPI dashboards. It’s this variety that I enjoy the most.  

I also lead the Operations Team. Our team leads on all the key functions that underpin everything else that happens – from organisational design and culture building, through to financial modelling and paying the bills, and coordinating work across the whole of RDS. We also look after the essential things that go on in the background, like supporting good governance, gathering performance data, and looking after the health and safety of our colleagues.  


“Good data and good research – when used well – can make a real difference on improving the health of individual people and whole communities. ”

Allan Johnstone

What’s your background and how does it give you additional insight to your work at RDS?  

I have a background as a charity executive and before that in community development and public health.  

These previous roles have given me a nice mix of experience in running and developing organisations, and have shown me how good data and good researchwhen used well can make a real difference on improving the health of individual people and whole communities.  

What’s a highlight and a challenge of your role?  

A highlight has been helping to bring in so many great people to this organisation. When I joined RDS there were only about a dozen of us, now we’re three times that size. And to see everyone working on building services, the data set-up, and engaging across the system is equally fascinating and exciting. 

Getting RDS to this point has, at times, been a Herculean effort in managing many projects and complex developments and everyone involved has stepped in and risen to the challenges.  


What difference do you hope RDS will make?  

We’ll know we’ve made a difference when we make the work of researchers quicker and easier.  

That should lead to improvements across services, policy, and day to day practices that everyone in Scotland can benefit from.  


“We’ll know we’ve made a difference when we make the work of researchers quicker and easier. ”

Allan Johnstone

What would be your "Mastermind" specialist subject?  

I’d never go on Mastermind as I’m more of a generalist than specialist. Put me on Pointless instead! 

Who, real-life or public figure, has inspired or motivated you in your career or life?  

The most inspiring person I’ve known was Steve Retson. He was the Director of a small charity I volunteered with 30 years ago. At a time when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or who I wanted to become, he gave me the support and direction that I needed. His approach to work and life was so inspiring, and it has led me to where I am now. 


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