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Researcher Access Service

Learn about how we've developed the Researcher Access Service to simplify and speed up access to secure data for research.

What is the Researcher Access Service?

The Researcher Access Service is a digital service that makes it quicker and simpler for approved researchers to access public sector data for research.

Often, ways of accessing public sector data for research in areas such as health, education, child protection and justice are extremely fragmented. From a researcher’s perspective, even simple requests are not straightforward, forcing people to work across multiple websites and follow often convoluted processes. On the organisational side, administration tools are limited and there is no effective means to track and monitor applications.

The Researcher Access Service aims to improve this process, enabling better access to public sector data about people, places and businesses. 

Learn more about the Researcher Access Service

Find out more about the Researcher Access Service, how it works, and how data is kept safe.

Read the explainer Read the explainer

Initial launch: April 2024

An initial beta version of the Researcher Access Service was launched in April 2024. At launch, the Service enables faster access to nine datasets around health held in Scotland’s National Safe Haven – a Trusted Research Environment which securely houses some of Scotland’s most useful datasets for research. As the Service progresses, we are working to expand this to include other areas like education, social work, justice, and others.

Our initial work on the Researcher Access Service includes improving the information available to researchers, digitising the application process (including a portal for applicants to track the status of their application) and introducing a risk-based triage approach to information governance, fast-tracking simpler projects that don’t require complex privacy considerations.

What do we mean by ‘Beta’?   

Beta is a term associated with agile delivery – the recommended methodology for delivering software and services in the public sector. Further details can be found on the GOV.UK Service Manual.

This means that the Researcher Access Service is still in active development and will continue to be tested and improved. The Beta label is displayed to reflect this. During this time, aspects of the service may not be fully operational and there may be changes because of ongoing refinements.

When the Beta phase successfully ends, the service will become ‘live’ and will fully replace existing services and processes.

Using the Researcher Access Service

Learn more about using the Researcher Access Service for your research project.

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Aims and vision

The aim of the Researcher Access Service is to make it faster and simpler to access data to support research in the public good. The service needs to operate securely, lawfully and offer an improved end-to-end experience for front- and back-end users while reducing errors and duplication.

Our aims for the Researcher Access Service are to:

  • Maximise the use and re-use of data acquired and stored within a secure data holding, with a consistent approach to linking datasets.
  • Build access to a portfolio of data assets around people, places, and businesses that are held securely and accessible at pace.
  • Develop a single digital solution to help manage interactions with applicants and potential applicants, build partnership relationships, and streamline processes.
  • Create a service model where the pathway to data for research in the public good is proportionate to the risk of access.
  • Improve the guidance and data discovery offering to better support researchers and research applications.

The story so far

Working with the public

In 2021 and 2022, ADR Scotland (Administrative Data Research Scotland) public panel sessions took place to help to shape and offer valuable feedback on the strategic direction of RDS. These panel sessions introduced some of the concepts for the development of what is now called the Researcher Access Service and offered panel members the opportunity to comment and question the approach.

The public panel feedback influenced the approach we have taken, how we communicate safeguards and the name of the service.

As we develop future iterations of the service, we will continue to involve the Scotland Talks Data public panel and be informed by wider public engagement.

Find out more about how the public have been involved in developing the Researcher Access Service.

Involving users and partners

Since the outset, we have endeavoured to ensure that our users, including researchers and other data professionals, are a key part of the design process.

This means that the design and delivery of the Researcher Access Service has been through several stages of iterative development, with ongoing user consultation established as a fundamental part of the process.

The work undertaken has been accompanied by various stages of user feedback which, alongside forums like the Scotland Talks Data public panel, influence the priorities and direction of travel for our service development.

We also work with our partners and data controllers to widen the range of datasets available through the Researcher Access Service. This includes working closely with eDRIS (electronic Data Research and Innovation Service), part of Public Health Scotland, to develop the Service and enable streamlined access to the nine health datasets that are available at initial launch.

Incremental progress

After initially launching in beta in April 2024, the Service will continue to be developed incrementally, with the aim of introducing different features and elements over time towards a common objective of reducing time and effort to access data. Continuous improvements will be made as we understand how people are using the service and as other areas of work progress (for instance, information governance, data acquisition, and partnerships). 

We intend to follow best practice and adhere to criteria set out in the Digital Scotland Service Standard, striving to design a service that meets users’ needs, is sustainable in the long term, and is based on strategic technology choices.

Key milestones

Discover some key milestones and insights into developing the Researcher Access Service:

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Why public sector data needs to be transformed

25 April 2023

Programmes and Data Acquisition Director, Nora Cooke O'Dowd, reflects on her talk at Holyrood Connect’s Public Sector Data Summit.

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Nexer Digital chosen to develop new digital services

13 Jan 2023

The project saw the service design agency create a new website and brand assets, and design a new application service.

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Starting as we mean to go on

12 Jan 2023

Chief Information Officer, Hugh Wallace, shares how we're laying the foundations to simplify data access.

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