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Year two: game on

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Blog posts

Roger Halliday

17 May 2023

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.

Since being created and funded by Scottish Government in 2021, we have quickly established an impressive Board, brought together an excellent team of people and established ways of working that allow us to get on with our mission to promote and advance health and social wellbeing in Scotland by enabling access to public sector data about people, places and businesses. Our strategy shows how we will make this a reality. 

Over the last year we’ve been putting the foundations in place to make the changes needed to securely widen the range of data available, create new data assets and speed up and simplify the processes for how those datasets are accessed. We have, and will continue to have, what we do grounded in the views of the public. 

Our latest business plan, published today, looks ahead from April 2023 to March 2024 and focuses our activity under three key areas: strengthening collaboration, demonstrating trustworthiness; shaping our services for the future; and a system wide approach to unlocking Scotland’s data.

Strengthening collaboration, demonstrating trustworthiness

We can’t and we won’t act alone in how we work. Indeed, we plan to develop further partnership arrangements with other organisations in Scotland and the UK who provide data access services, both with the intention of federating data, and of enhancing the range of services available.  

RDS has a role in supporting joint working across the Scottish safe havens. We launched a Systems Development Fund last year and plan to do a further round of projects led by Regional Safe Havens to simplify and align arrangements for access to data, collaborating on public engagement, industry use of data, information governance, and communications.

“This year is about starting to introduce system changes that save time and improve researcher’s experience through a new Researcher Access Service.”

Professor Roger Halliday

Shaping our services for the future 

If last year was about laying the foundations for change through a service blueprint and technical assessment, this year is about starting to introduce system changes that save time and improve researcher’s experience through a new Researcher Access Service. We’ll make changes bit by bit learning as we go with our partners. 

In particular, we will be shortly launching a new improved website including an overhaul of the metadata catalogue to make it easier to formulate asks for data and navigate the process.  

We will introduce a fast-track information governance approach for lower risk projects, and starting with these projects, will digitise the application process: in time helping researchers get the application through independent panels (where needed) first time round. 

We’re developing approaches to producing synthetic versions of datasets to enable researchers to decide what datasets/variables they need and allow them to develop code while waiting for approval to use data. 

And we’re commissioning and overseeing delivery of developments to the National Safe Haven, including services that enable researchers to bring together either key open datasets alongside case level data or one that allows them to bring their own data in ways that integrate with existing RDS curated datasets.

A system wide approach to unlocking Scotland’s data

RDS’s ultimate aim is to improve access to Scotland’s already excellent public sector data, which is stored in lots of individual systems, across many different organisations, to advance health and social wellbeing. A system-wide approach is essential to achieve this aim.  

Health and care data is incredibly important research asset, and so we’re working collaboratively with Public Health Scotland to widen the range of health and care data available in Scotland, such as exploring possibilities for making data on primary care, hospital and care home prescribing, medical imaging, genomics and laboratories available for research in a safe and secure manner  

We’re delighted to have been given the opportunity to support the delivery of the ADR Scotland programme undertaking practical data activities to bring together a prioritised set of administrative data available for research and updating datasets already in the National Safe Haven. This is a really significant step for RDS as it moves us into service delivery. 

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Engaging with the public about what we do is crucial for building trust in how we handle data.

Public engagement remains crucial

At the heart of what we do is the trust from the public, business and others to handle their data responsibly.  

Public engagement remains a critical activity throughout the whole organisation’s priorities. For example, we are partnering with Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR), who deliver the ADR Scotland public panel, to co-host a public panel on data. We also intend to explore the potential of a youth panel. 

As part of our business plan, we will continue to engage with the public and work with others in this arena. 

While the steps outlined in the plan aren’t straightforward to deliver, I’m confident that they will make it easier for researchers to explore public sector datasets, be innovative and test ideas leading to insights that can help policymakers develop strategies and interventions for wider society and public benefit.

Related content

Criss-crossing paths in a green, hilly landscape with rocks and gorse

New RDS business plan published

The business plan outlines RDS's activity focusing on three key areas: strengthening collaboration, demonstrating trustworthiness; shaping our services for the future; and a system wide approach to unlocking Scotland's data.

Research Data Scotland

17 May 2023

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