RDS launches new data service for research

Service to improve Scotland’s health, economic, social and environmental wellbeing

Research Data Scotland (RDS), supported by the Scottish Government, was launched on Thursday, September 30 at the Data Conference in Edinburgh organised by the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Data-Driven Innovation initiative.

RDS is a collaboration between the Scottish Government, Scotland’s leading academic institutions and public bodies which aim to facilitate insight from data to support the public good.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for COVID Recovery, said: “Data has been key to effective decision-making throughout the pandemic. That’s why we established a data taskforce in June 2020 to support organisations with evidence-based policy and operational decisions in relation to COVID-19.

“Research Data Scotland has now been established to cement this approach with a mission is to improve the health, economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Scotland and attract inward investment by creating a supportive environment for ethical and secure data-driven research.”

Scotland has a wealth of public sector data but traditionally it has been locked away in lots of individual systems, across multiple organisations, in formats that are difficult to access or compare.

As a collaboration between the Scottish Government, public bodies, and Scotland’s leading academic institutions, RDS brings together expertise from a range of existing data-led programmes across the public sector to help make data-driven research in the public good easier with a commitment to always handle data legally, ensuring privacy is maintained and that research is carried out transparently.

Professor Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician of the Scottish Government & interim CEO at RDS, said: “The pandemic has shown us the benefits of doing data right, doing data together, and doing data better. Faster analysis and evidence gathering to support decision-making means better outcomes can be delivered more quickly to Scotland’s citizens.

“RDS brings together expertise, resource and capabilities from a range of existing data-led programmes across the public sector with a commitment to always handle data legally, using the relevant legislation to ensure that citizen privacy is always maintained and that research is carried out transparently.”

Angela Leitch, CEO, Public Health Scotland, said: “Effective action on Scotland’s public health challenges depends on good data and intelligence on the broad range of factors that impact on health. By linking health and social care data with wider public sector data in areas such as housing, employment, and education, Research Data Scotland will create opportunities for us to use the data in new and different ways. 

“As a founding member of RDS, Public Health Scotland welcomes the opportunity to drive forward improvements in how we use data across the public sector. We will work in partnership with the new organisation to support these linkages, enhance our existing services and support better access to data and evidence for the research community. Strengthening our shared access to data has real potential to support the collaborative action necessary to improve outcomes in our communities.”

Pete Whitehouse, Director of Statistical Services for National Records of Scotland (NRS), said: “As an information organisation, NRS is tasked by the public to protect the valuable and often unique information we are entrusted to hold and to use this for public benefit. We also provide a trusted third-party indexing service enabling data to be de-identified for linkage to ensure privacy is maintained. NRS is pleased to support the launch of Research Data Scotland and contribute our specialist services to this important new collaboration.”

Professor Mark Parsons, Director, EPCC, the University of Edinburgh, said: “The University of Edinburgh is very proud to be one of the founding partners of Research Data Scotland. It represents a powerful opportunity for Scotland to show leadership in using digital data to power research for the public’s benefit.”

The RDS researcher support service has been developed through its website to provide guidance on access to data, information governance and a rich analytical environment with a commitment to always handle data legally, using the relevant legislation to ensure that privacy is always maintained and that research is carried out transparently.

This approach ensures transparency about who is requesting data, which datasets and for what purpose and is an important component in maintaining public trust.

A video of the launch is available to view here.