Research Data Scotland: A conversation with Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician (Scottish Government)
In this post, we hear from Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician at the Scottish Government and lead on the new Research Data Scotland (RDS) service. RDS aims to make better use of existing administrative, public sector data in Scotland, with the ultimate goal of improving the well being of the people of Scotland.
We managed to catch up with Roger and ask him a few questions on the current progress of RDS, how COVID-19 has impacted this progress, how researchers can engage more with government, and much more. Thanks to Roger and his team for answering our questions!
If you want to jump to a specific question you can click on the questions below. Otherwise, just keep scrolling!
Q: What are the main challenges being faced in Scotland in terms of reaching its full potential for producing quality research using routine data?
Scotland has been enabling high quality research in a secure and ethical way for many years. However, it can be unclear what public sector data is available for use in research and this data can be of unknown or poor quality. It can also take too long to access data with it being dispersed between and within public sector organisations.
Q: How do you think Scotland can contribute to research using administrative data?
Scotland has a rich and varied data ecosystem as well as access to a unique talent pool with the skills and experience to allow us to maximise the value of our data and deliver award-winning research projects. Thanks to investment from the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal we are also investing in a 10-year data-driven innovation programme.
The Scottish Government, alongside Scotland’s leading academic institutions and public bodies are committed to facilitating secure data sharing for research in the public good. We want to work with data controllers and users to improve the quality of data for research while also making access more cost-effective, faster and more streamlined. At the same time, we need to ensure there is ongoing trust, support and feedback from the public.
Q: How will Research Data Scotland help to overcome those challenges?
RDS’s overall mission is to improve the economic, social and environmental well being in Scotland by enabling access to, and linkage of, data about people, places and businesses for research in the public good.
To underpin RDS’s mission, we have outlined the following principles:
RDS will only enable access to data for research that is for the public good
RDS will ensure that researchers and RDS staff can only access data once an individual’s personal identity has been removed
RDS will ensure that all data about people, businesses or places is always kept in a controlled and secured environment
RDS will only create a dataset if it is requested for a research programme or study that is in the public good
All income that RDS generates will be re-invested into services to help researchers continue to access data
Firms that access public data for the public good through RDS will share any commercial benefits back into public services
RDS will be transparent about what data it provides access to and how it is being used for public benefit
In the development of RDS, as we are working through the service design, we’re speaking to researchers across Scotland to understand and test out approaches to addressing these challenges. These solutions may take some time to be realised, but RDS will put us on the right path and take leadership in seeing this through.
Q: How has the development of RDS been impacted by COVID-19?
In response to COVID-19, we have accelerated the development of RDS by delivering the COVID-19 research data service. We have achieved this by bringing together expertise, resource and capabilities from a range of existing data-led programmes across the public sector and by working closely with universities across Scotland. This service aims to provide consolidated guidance on accessing data, information governance and the analytical environment to support COVID-19 related research. It accelerates the work that was already underway to support the development of Research Data Scotland as well as ADR Scotland. This is an initial RDS baseline service to support Scotland’s response to the pandemic and will evolve as the management of the current public health emergency progresses.
RDS is building on and repurposing the existing data infrastructure in Scotland. This includes resources, expertise and capabilities offered by our service delivery partners and partner organisations, including Public Health Scotland (eDRIS), National Records of Scotland, The Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre and HDR-UK, alongside accredited facilities, such as the Scottish National Safe Haven while also working in partnership with Scottish Universities.
Once fully established, RDS will provide a single point of access to help researchers access a suite of key data from across the public sector.
Q: How are you engaging with the public during the set-up of RDS?
We want to ensure that there is ongoing trust, support and feedback from the public as we build the service with a flexible and modular approach. To do this, we want to continue to gather feedback on its design and implementation from data controllers, users and the general public as we build the service. We have set-up a website – ResearchData.Scot – where we will share information on the new service as well as opportunities for the public to provide input as they become available. There is a wealth of useful information and resources already provided by the eCRUSADers platform and our intention is that RDS will complement the valuable work already done in this space. We are also working with the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) public panel to seek their feedback on RDS’s approach and objectives.
Q: Are there any other countries in particular that you think Scotland can look to as an exemplar in this area?
We have looked at a range of other countries including Wales, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Denmark and New Zealand in order to understand and learn from their experiences in developing solutions to similar challenges. This has shown us that a successful data-led research programme must be built with the support of data controllers and users throughout its development. Any new service must be cost-effective, faster and more streamlined and there must be ongoing trust, support and feedback from the public established throughout.
Q: How can we promote collaborative working between academic groups and analysts working within the public sector & government?
The Scottish Government and SCADR form the ADR Scotland partnership that aims to enable government policies and interventions to be informed by the best evidence available through the use and analysis of administrative data.
Specifically, ADR Scotland is developing a new model with the creation of curated, themed data sets that are maintained and used repeatedly to answer new and different questions. This is a sustainable research resource that represents greater value for money, and more efficient use of data already collected.
Research is divided into key themes called Strategic Impact Programmes (SIPs) which are designed to address the key social challenges identified in the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework (NPF), as well responding to policy priorities in the UK more broadly. We are committed to sharing our research findings in a form that is easily digestible and useable by government policy makers and wider society, as well outputs for academics and the data community.