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Five minute profile: interview with Layla Robinson

Photo of Layla Robinson
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

05 Apr 2024

Chief Partnership and Strategy Officer, Layla Robinson, shares insights into her role at RDS and how the Partnerships and Communications team contribute to the organisation's mission.

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

I’m the Chief Partnerships and Strategy Officer, and I lead the Partnerships and Communications team. Like RDS as a whole, we’re still quite a new team and we’ve developed quickly. The (fantastic) team covers how RDS works with existing partners and develops new partnerships, particularly in the context of additional funding. We also manage RDS’s strategy and strategic projects, communications, and engagement with the public and researchers. Our work always involves collaborating with colleagues in RDS and beyond in a wide range of areas, and I enjoy the variety of the team’s scope.

I see a key part of my role to be to support and direct the team. The main aims for me are for us to work with others to ensure RDS realises the main aims outlined in the initial business case for its creation and that the work of RDS and its partners is sustainable.

This includes ensuring relevant people have an awareness and understanding of the progress we’re making, as well as any challenges, and that we involve relevant groups - whether through the public panel ‘Scotland Talks Data’ or users/researchers - in our work.

In practice, this means a combination of thinking, meetings, emails, writing and talking. Isn’t that everyone’s job in different ways?! But really, it’s centred around thinking about RDS’ vision and plans, getting input from different people, and how we develop, refine and reflect back on that.

“It’s not always straightforward, but we’ve really come a long way, and we now have a good basis to build on.”

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

Prior to working at RDS, I spent 20 years in related fields. I worked in public affairs consultancy for seven years, providing advice and working closely with a range of organisations including developing cross-sector partnerships; seven years in middle and senior management roles at Cancer Research UK; and six years in a few contract roles, with a coalition of charities, a pharmaceutical company and at a research centre. I have had a varied career but a thread running through has been cross-sector working, particularly in research. 

Working across the research, charity, public and private sectors is key to what we do at RDS. We sit at the centre of these different sectors, which all share a common goal of improving the ways data is accessed for research. Throughout my career, my roles have involved taking ethereal ideas and turning them into practical, tangible strategies, with a focus on impact. 

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

One highlight for me was coming up with an initial public engagement plan - including the Public Engagement Fund - on about day three of starting at RDS! It’s been great to see the rapid progress RDS has made in just a few years.

I have loved the scope of the role and the work we have done to develop the capabilities of the organisation and the ways we work with others to make a change. It’s not always straightforward, but we’ve really come a long way, and we now have a good basis to build on.

As the organisation develops, we’re establishing more ‘business as usual’ operations, but there will always be scope to be creative, to further iterate existing areas and to reflect on the impact we’ve had. 

“My hope is that [RDS] will expand the extent to which data research is undertaken, benefitting Scotland socially and economically. ”

What difference do you hope RDS will make? 

I know we can make it quicker and simpler for researchers to access public sector data for public good; and widen the range of datasets available for research, making it easier to link data. My hope is that this will expand the extent to which data research is undertaken, benefitting Scotland socially and economically. 

What would be your "Mastermind" specialist subject? 

Probably certain ‘90s or ‘00s TV shows or the Mitford Sisters...

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

Influenced by ‘00s TV, CJ from The West Wing.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Also, I worked with someone years ago, who would say “we are where we are” a lot, which I quite like.

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