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Reflections from Public Sector Data Summit 2024

Roger Halliday stands at a podium and presents to an audience, with panel members in frame to the left.
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Research Data Scotland

02 Apr 2024

In March, Research Data Scotland (RDS) colleagues attended the Public Sector Data Summit, organised by Holyrood Connect. We were also pleased to be able to sponsor the conference, with the theme being integral to our own work.

Exploring real-life examples of data use within the public-sector, the conference gave attendees the opportunity to gain insights into key questions such as how to get the basics right on data, the importance of data ethics, and how data use can make positive differences in communities across Scotland.  

We spoke to three RDS colleagues about their experience of the conference and how the themes resonated with our mission to unlock the power of public sector data.

Professor Roger Halliday, CEO of Research Data Scotland, said:  

“We know the public sector needs transformative innovation. That in turn needs cross-sectoral evidence to know what to do and how well it works. 

“Scotland is well placed to provide data driven innovation with great data, analytics and a collaboration mindset. But with our data locked away across different systems, it can be difficult to use it to its full potential. 

“Research Data Scotland are starting to unlock data for research with our new Researcher Access Service, but we have further to go to get data driven innovation happening systematically.  

“Timescales for accessing data remained an issue for many people I talked to at the conference and reinforced for me the need for our work to safely open up access. It was also clear that support is needed for organisations to understand how to make services changes with the support of the data available to us.  I’m keen for RDS to explore this, including how we can work with other organisations in that space.  

“It was also really satisfying to speak with someone about A&E research, and while doing so, quickly check our metadata catalogue on my phone to let the person know that the project they’re planning would be possible. This is a testament to how our work is already making the process easier for researchers – by making it simple to find out that datasets are available!”  

“Research Data Scotland are starting to unlock data for research with our new Researcher Access Service...”

Professor Roger Halliday, CEO of Research Data Scotland

Layla Robinson, Chief Partnerships and Strategy Officer, said:  

“Public Sector Data Summit sounded like a great fit for RDS, so my hope for the conference was to inform people interested in public sector data in Scotland about the progress we’re making. I was also keen to inform wider discussions and understand where people are coming from, how we can work together and agree on how things can be improved. It’s crucial to be clear with each other on how things current work and where we’re trying to go, so that we can be sure that we’re informing the public in accurate and accessible ways on topics that can become fairly technical very quickly.

“We were pleased to be able to sponsor a session on data ethics, which I took part in the panel discussion for, as one of my main takeaways from the event was thinking about information governance and the framework we and others are working within.

“The conference also had me thinking – as I often am – about the importance of how we are bringing together data at RDS, given the potential benefits that this could have to inform policy decisions and wider research.

“There is an interest in the private sector to use public sector research for public good, and this research already happens, often in partnership with academia. But this work can be slow, particularly in areas such as health, and it would be good to build on those relationships and improve access. Of course, essential elements to this would be appropriate safeguards being in place and ensuring that we involve the public in how their data could potentially be used. It’s clear that we need more investment in data, and careful consideration of how we work with private sector organisations is an interesting area to explore.”

“There is an interest in the private sector to use public sector research for public good...”

Layla Robinson, Chief Partnerships and Strategy Officer

We also caught up with Stella Telford, one of our new Data Analysts, on her experience of the conference. Stella said: 

“This was my first time attending a conference, and it seemed like a perfect fit for my role at RDS. This role is still quite new to me, as is the industry in general, so it was great to hear more about what colleagues in the sector consider to be the key issues.  

“I found the case study sessions really interesting, as they highlighted the positive impact that the use of data has had on some communities within Scotland. A presentation from Berwickshire Housing Association on how they have managed to support homes in the Borders with rising fuel costs and helped alleviate the impact of fuel poverty was particularly interesting.  

“It's inspiring to hear about the ways data has been used in real-world scenarios, and the positive impact it can have on people’s lives. This relates back to my own role at RDS as I am currently working on the ADR Scotland programme, helping to make datasets available for research that have the potential to improve public life in Scotland.” 

“It's inspiring to hear about the ways data has been used in real-world scenarios, and the positive impact it can have on people’s lives.”

Stella Telford, Data Analyst

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