Using data to save time, money and lives – an update on Research Data Scotland

December 4, 2019 by No Comments | Category Research Data Scotland

By Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician

Earlier this year I wrote about our plan to set-up Research Data Scotland (RDS) to use the fantastic data we have about people, organisations and places to systematically improve the lives of people in Scotland.

We’ve been making progress over the last few months and I wanted to share an update on some key areas.

Firstly, our commitment to deliver RDS in Spring 2020 was reiterated in September’s Programme for Government which also recognised the social and economic benefits that the new service could bring.

We have also been working hard to define what RDS will offer.

To be clear, the central aim of RDS is to improve data access for ethically sound research which is in the public good and improves our understanding of equalities. Trustworthiness will be at the heart of all RDS does and includes maintaining the security and privacy of the data by removing personal identifiers, holding data in a very secure place and only allowing access to accredited researchers. Data will not leave these secure settings and all research outputs will be checked to ensure they do not allow people or organisations to be identified.

RDS’s initial offer will be providing a single point of contact to help researchers to access a suite of key public sector data. These data holdings will support answering both policy and research questions that are broadly aligned to Scotland’s National Outcomes and will include Children, Health and Wellbeing, and Education destinations. All this is being made possible through the UK wide investment into Administrative Data Research (ADR UK) by the Economic and Social Research Council. Through this investment we are developing a new model that will streamline how data can be brought together for research by making access faster and more predictable. This means that award winning data linkage research projects like the Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) project, which supports the Scottish Government OHCA Strategy, can happen more often, at greater pace and ultimately make a difference to people’s lives.

At the same time, we are helping the public to understand and support the use of data for the wider good of society while ensuring that the technical systems are in place to protect their privacy.

Once fully operational RDS will offer a wider range of data assets, with published and searchable metadata, which will be invaluable in improving our knowledge of Scotland’s people, organisations and places. This approach will enhance our ability to get unique insights into grand societal challenges and inequalities as well as our responsiveness to address these issues and create economic opportunities. In the longer term, there is the potential for RDS to offer a range of services, including data analysis for organisations who don’t have that capability.

So, what’s next for RDS?

We are currently working with Ministers to finalise the business case which will also be looking at the legal and financial options for delivery. My starting assumption is that the service will charge for the time of those helping to make the data securely available and check that it is in the public interest.

In the lead-up to RDS being operational in Spring 2020, we will also be making a number of key early appointments. This will coincide with a transitional period where the current data access process transfers into the new model. While finalising the legal basis of RDS we will also establish strong governance arrangements that build trustworthiness in all it does.

Finally, as we develop RDS further I want to continue to gather feedback on its design and implementation. I will share further details of opportunities to provide input as they become available.

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