The future of public services: improved and driven by data
04 Oct 2023
Layla Robinson, Chief Partnership & Strategy Officer at RDS, reflects on the key themes raised at this year's Scotsman Data Conference.
I was delighted to speak on the future of public services panel at The Scotman’s 'Data Futures, AI Futures' conference last week.
At Research Data Scotland (RDS), we are working to connect researchers to public sector data, making it simpler and faster to generate evidence to help create policies to improve society. So, it was timely to co-host a discussion on the importance of data-driven insights and how it can lead to better research and policies.
In Scotland, our data systems are relatively advanced - we have a rich history in data informatics and longstanding datasets with good population coverage of around six million. This means using data to provide an evidence base for interventions to answer societal questions like health inequalities, climate change, cost of living and productivity should be embraced.
For example, during the pandemic, researchers were able to use patient data to track COVID-19 in near real-time as well as the effectiveness of vaccines. It’s a good example to highlight RDS’s mission – that it is possible to speed up access to public sector data for research for public good.
There was a lot of agreement on the panel, particularly on the importance of getting the right balance of risk and the need to simplify access to public sector data for research. Currently, the balance can be too far towards no risk and there are also steps that provide no additional benefit or reassurance. We need to ensure data owners are on board and can see the benefit to allowing access to data, even if it might not directly benefit them or their organisation. There is wider benefit, and there is a risk of not doing the research and realising the benefits that could come from it.
It’s clear that information governance is key – getting the right balance to allow researcher access to data and protecting individuals’ data but a host of legislation and regulation is in place to ensure this, such as GDPR and the Digital Economy Act. Working with the legislation and safe guards, a key part of RDS’ work is looking at approval processes and how we can improve these.
Public engagement is at the heart of our work to support trust and transparency. We’ve funded a series of projects across Scotland to support engagement in data research. These eight projects have looked at including diverse voices, usually not represented, and a mix of approaches to breaking down barriers and empowering the public to engage with data research. We’re also reinvigorating a public panel to guarantee the public’s voice can be heard.
A highly-anticipated piece of work from RDS is a Researcher Access Service, which will offer end-users a complete but streamlined, pathway to apply for and gain, access to secure data for research.
There is a need to support innovation and infrastructure in this way – not all innovation may seem exciting and it would be good to see investment to embed programmes of change and ensure there is support from data owners and controllers across all levels.
These things take time but RDS’s role is to work in partnership and lead the transformation of Scotland’s public sector data systems. We can’t do it alone, we need to work with other organisations across the Scottish data landscape to provide system leadership. If we get this right, then we can make progress and not fall behind other UK nations and internationally to align and simplify policies and approaches and to deliver improvements.
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Watch the session:
Year two: game on
As we move into our second year of operating as a not-for-profit charitable organisation, Research Data Scotland (RDS) is moving at pace to ensure Scotland’s public sector data can be accessed quickly and with less friction.
17 May 2023