Doing Data Better conference: New data service launched for researchers

A new service for researchers to use data for public good was launched at the conference by the Scottish Government’s chief statistician, Roger Halliday.

White and blue firewall activated on server room data center 3D rendering
White and blue firewall activated on server room data center 3D rendering

Research Data Scotland (RDS) is “a service for researchers to help data-driven innovation happen across Scotland and to improve decision-making, save time, money and lives”.

Halliday – who is also chief executive of RDS – emphasised that public trust was vital: “Trust is at the heart of everything we do at Research Data Scotland, because if we don’t have trust, we just don’t have the service there.”

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This was based on the “five safes” model, he said:

- Safe data

- Safe settings

- Safe people

- Safe projects

- Safe outcomes

He explained what this meant in practice: “National Records of Scotland, with expertise running the census and registering vital events, de-identify the data, and send it to the National Data Safe Haven. That’s a place that holds data very securely because it’s not actually attached to the web, alongside a range of other security features. It’s an ultra safe place to host data.

“The researchers have to be accredited, and trained up in making sure that they know how to properly use such data, and projects [wanting to use the data] have to demonstrate that they’re in the public interest, and promote equalities.

“Once the researcher has done their work, RDS staff will only release outputs to the researcher if they are confident they don’t identify individuals.”

Halliday said RDS currently had about 35 datasets “covering health, vital events and children”. It was looking at adding data about justice, household surveys and more, and that would only expand over time.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said RDS was about “finding ways in which we can use the huge amounts of data that we have at our disposal to strengthen the responses that we put in place to meet the needs of our citizens”

He added: “This has got to be done in a way that is entirely anonymised. We use the data with care and sensitivity to understand the patterns. The effective and appropriate use of data is crucial to improving the services we can put in place to meet the needs of individuals within our society.

“Research Data Scotland is the government’s approach to trying to do this, to encourage collaboration around the handling of the use of data with the single objective of improving the outcomes from the services that we deliver to members of the public.”

A digital version of the full conference report can be found here.