By Professor Roger Halliday, 8 September 2022
No doubt the biggest challenges facing society are adapting to a changing climate, tackling child poverty, and improving the health and wellbeing disenfranchised people and marginalised communities in Scotland. Tackling these economic, environmental and economic challenges requires collaboration between people, ideas and evidence. Data has a huge role to play in unlocking our potential to having a more equal and just society.
At Research Data Scotland (RDS) our mission is to promote and advance health and social wellbeing in Scotland by enabling access to public sector data about people, places and businesses.
Many will be aware that we are a newly established charity founded by Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland and Universities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our latest strategy and business plan, published today 8 September, describes how we plan to collaborate with a number of partners to unlock Scotland’s already excellent public sector data, which is stored in lots of individual systems, across many different organisations.
The vision for RDS
We want to make that data accessible and allow users – whether they be academic researchers or data analysts from charity, government or business to use public sector data to make linkages and connect the dots to improve policymaking.
At the moment, much of this data from sources such as the census, school qualifications, hospital admissions, isn’t in a format that makes access or integration of data easy. If a user wants to connect the data, for example, people registering as homeless and use of healthcare they would have to make multiple requests to different organisations. Alongside that, accessing data can take too long, meaning research questions remain unanswered and policy is no longer fresh or innovative.
Data provides us with the evidence to help understand the root causes of problems, the insights to formulate strategies to address these problems, and the evidence to learn whether current or proposed policy approaches are effective. The next stage for RDS is to work with our partners and simplify the overall process, reducing the burden of administration on those holding the data and making it easier for users who want to access and analyse the data.
Simplifying the system
Our plan is to simplify the system by providing platforms, policies and approaches that give confidence to data controllers, researchers, and the public, and reduce cost and friction where possible. In our business plan 2022-2023, which supports the strategy, we stress our collaborative approach by working ever more closely with partners like eDRIS (electronic Data Research & Innovation Service) in Public Health Scotland, National Records of Scotland and Scottish Universities.
Our focus will be on improving the speed and quality of the research data access service. Using the experience of researchers, we have developed a detailed service design blueprint. This will establish user journeys that are quicker with reduced effort whilst maintaining scrutiny of public value for all uses of data. Our plan is to have a detailed delivery programme underway to create the components of that service by June 2023.
A series of demonstrator projects will help bring to life the potential RDS has to offer to users. For example, we have brought together a range of data on protected characteristics and are working with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to help them better understand how fair access to and outcomes from their services are. Projects like these will hopefully open up the possibilities of how the data could be used to support innovative decision-making.
Public engagement is key
Finally, none of this will be possible unless the public understand that their data is safe with us.
As part of our strategy, we are committing to engaging with the public and working with others in this space by supporting dialogue activity that’s already underway.
We plan to build a portfolio of research data assets that are held securely with public support and enable these datasets to be up to date and accessed at pace. To gain public support, we will need to continue to actively engage and listen to what the public has to say on how their data is accessed, managed and stored and what type of data they are comfortable to share for wider societal benefit.