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Good collaboration is key

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Blog posts

Roger Halliday

21 Dec 2022

Working together to unlock the full potential of data will lead to more equal and just society.

This blog post, written by Research Data Scotland CEO Professor Roger Halliday, was originally published in The Scotsman.

Some of the biggest challenges facing our society are adapting to a changing climate, tackling child poverty, and improving the health and wellbeing disenfranchised people and marginalised communities. It’s clear from September's Data for Diversity conference that tackling these economic, environmental and economic challenges requires collaboration between people, ideas and evidence. And while data has a huge role to play in unlocking our potential to having a more equal and just society, we need to ensure the data collected and connected in the first place, which is used to inform policies, captures all manners of people and behaviour so no one is left behind.  

All these themes were picked up at pace in the data for more diverse and inclusive health outcomes session. I along with my fellow panelists spoke about the perils, pitfalls and potential of working with data.   

At Research Data Scotland (RDS) our mission is to promote and advance health and social wellbeing in Scotland by enabling access to public sector data about people, places and businesses.

Scotland already has excellent public sector data, which is stored in lots of individual systems, across many different organisations. We want to make that data accessible and allow users – whether they be academic researchers or data analysts from charity, government or business to use public sector data to make linkages and connect the dots to improve policymaking.

At the moment, much of this data from sources such as the census, school qualifications, hospital admissions, isn’t in a format that makes access or integration of data easy. If a researcher wants to connect data from different organisations, they have to make requests to each of those organisations. This means accessing data can take too long and the potential from that research remain unfulfilled or significantly delayed.

Headshot of Professor Roger Halliday speaking.
Professor Roger Halliday. Photo credit: Lisa Ferguson

Data provides us with the evidence to help understand the root causes of problems, the insights to formulate strategies to address these problems, and the evidence to learn whether current or proposed policy approaches are effective. The next stage for RDS is to work with our partners and simplify the overall process, reducing the burden of administration on those holding the data and making it easier for users who want to access and analyse the data.   

Our plan, which we are now starting to deliver, is to simplify the system by providing platforms, policies and approaches that give confidence to data controllers, researchers, and the public, and reduce cost and friction where possible. Our focus will be on improving the speed and quality of the research data access service all the while maintaining scrutiny of public value for all uses of data.   

At the conference, I spoke about one of the demonstrator projects that will help bring to life the potential RDS has to offer to users. For example, we have brought together a range of data on protected characteristics and are working with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to help them better understand how fair access to and outcomes from their services are. Projects like these will hopefully open up the possibilities of how the data could be used to support innovative decision-making.   

A key component will be securing public trust in our work - so that the public understand that their data is safe with us.   

As part of our strategy, we are committing to engaging with the public and working with others in this space by supporting dialogue activity that’s already underway.   

To gain public support, we will need to continue to actively engage and listen to what the public has to say on how their data is accessed, managed and stored and what type of data they are comfortable to share for wider societal benefit.   

I’m passionate about Research Data Scotland’s vision to create the conditions data-driven innovation to happen systematically across Scotland to enable collaborations that save time, money and lives.

Find out more 

Read the conference report or watch the video with all the sessions from the day.

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