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Five minute profile: interview with Paul Jackson

Headshot of Paul Jackson
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

15 Dec 2023

We caught up with Paul Jackson, our Data Approvals Transformation Lead, to learn more about his role, and to talk about how Research Data Scotland can enable real change by improving access for researchers.

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

I joined Research Data Scotland to help with some information governance matters. In particular, my role is to improve the way decisions are made so that more research projects can get underway more quickly. It should be simple, but the whole business of preparing anonymised datasets for scientific researchers to use can get complicated if we let it.

A typical workday for me is spent in discussions with our partners to simplify, clarify, and build the steps we must take to improve research use of Scotland's excellent data. My day is spent exploring how best to get this lovely outcome that is so important for informing policy that can improve peoples’ lives.

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

I had some wonderful roles at the Office for National Statistics, starting off with data validation work for the 2001 Census, then leading Legal Services, International Relations, and Knowledge and Information Management. I left ONS to spend time in Norway setting up the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA) Europe's social science data archive and safe haven infrastructure.

Returning home again, I worked for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to help set up ADR UK. During the COVID-19 pandemic I set up the data governance for the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Each one of these roles is proving to be useful in some way for my work at RDS. 

“It is perfectly possible to have public science and private lives at the same time.”

Paul Jackson

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

What science can tell us about ourselves what makes us healthy, happy, and productive citizens is really important. And so is our privacy. This is sometimes seen as a compromise, but it isn't a tightrope, and we should not have to choose one at the expense of the other. It is perfectly possible to have public science and private lives at the same time.  


What difference do you hope RDS will make? 

We really need that scientific evidence! We really need to know what works to make us healthier, happier, and more productive. Policy makers, public administrations, and health and care providers need to know what initiatives have the greatest effect. And we need to know what changes we should ourselves make to improve our lives. RDS can ensure that the evidence needed is readily available. Too often scientific insights are little more than an obscure and historical commentary — it tells us what was happening five years ago because of a decision made five years before that. Whilst we can and should learn from history, what we really need is evidence that relates to the situation now, in support of the decisions being made now. RDS can enable that for Scotland.  


“We really need to know what works to make us healthier, happier, and more productive. ”

Paul Jackson

What would be your "Mastermind" specialist subject? 

The procedures for making European legislation. I'll get my coat.... 


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

In my career, Julia Lane is inspiring. She may have done more than anyone to win the argument that government needs research, and research needs government. Dr Ruth Gilbert continues to show how crucial systematic review and quantitative evidence is to improve the lives of children. Coming home from work and telling my daughter about these people over the years has informed her choice of career. So, thank you Julia, Ruth - there is another person now following in your footsteps. 


In life, then sports people like Fatima Whitbread and Naseem Hamed, musicians like Paul McCartney and Philip Glass, and comedians like Paul Foot and David Jason. 


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

Best piece of advice? I see Nora's 5 minute profile includes a German quote. I'll offer another. A good friend who now runs the research function of the Bundesbank told me (in English, but in a strong German accent) "First the trousers, and then the shoes". Good advice... 


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