[01/05/23] Bayes Centre Community Profile: Research Data Scotland
Bayes Centre community member Research Data Scotland (RDS), a not-for-profit charitable organisation that brings together expertise, resources and capabilities from a range of existing data-led programmes across the Scottish public sector.
Unlocking the power of public sector data
RDS, created and funded by the Scottish Government and a partnership between leading universities and public bodies, is unlocking the power of public sector data to make it quicker and simpler to do research and improve lives. They help researchers find and make use of health, social care and administrative data that can improve the lives of people in Scotland.
Data is often locked away in lots of individual systems, across many different organisations, and isn’t in a format that makes access or integration easy. Working in partnership, RDS are simplifying the data access journey by safely and securely widening the range of data available, creating new data assets and providing a single point of contact for effective access to public sector data.
RDS work in partnership with leading research data organisations to improve systems and simplify the process for accessing public sector data, and provide guidance and advice for researchers looking to access public sector data. They are developing a Researcher Access Service, creating a secure, single point of entry for access to a wide range of public sector datasets. To help guide their ongoing work, they also host regular Partner and User Forums to give updates on their progress and provide a platform for users to feed in and inform their future areas of focus.
RDS’s vision is to promote and advance health and social wellbeing in Scotland by enabling access to public sector data about people, places and businesses.
Although they are still a very young organisation, they have grown to a team of just over twenty since their first full year of operating as an independent charity in 2022. RDS is expanding further over the few months, and will then spend time consolidating as a team.
Working closely with their partner organisations is key to RDS’s development. A key part of their work involves collaborating with their partners to consider ways they can improve approaches to accessing public sector data for research.
We need to continually evolve to reflect the needs of data-users and be a leader in the data research landscape. We are working with an agency, Nexer Digital, to improve our digital platforms and develop a new service which will simplify and speed up the process of accessing public sector data, while ensuring systems remain safe and secure.
RDS's achievements and challenges
Despite being a young organisation, RDS is already making an impact on the data landscape with plans to launch an updated website with advice on accessing public sector data and by supporting projects that develop and improve the data access process.
"We’re about to launch an updated website which will include advice and guidance on accessing public sector data, helping researchers and analysts to navigate a system which can be confusing and overwhelming. We’re also supporting projects that develop and improve the data access process through our Systems Development Fund, and empowering the public to understand data and have a voice in conversations about data with our Public Engagement Fund" says Halliday.
The hardest challenges for RDS have been securing investment and establishing RDS’s role in the data landscape.
Improving access to public sector data is not easy – if it was, it would have been done already! It’s highly technical and involves a number of stakeholders, meaning it can take a long time to plan and implement change. While the data community are supportive of our mission, maintaining enthusiasm and energy long-term while also managing expectations about the timescale of change can be challenging.”
Another challenge RDS has faced was turning stakeholder support into funding to achieve their vision.
There are many examples of times when bringing data together has improved wellbeing or saved time and money, particularly during the pandemic. We found that demonstrating these benefits and highlighting lost opportunities helped stakeholders to see the value in RDS’s mission and invest in the organisation.
Invest in people
RDS CEO Roger Halliday's advice to those looking to start their own business is to invest in people.
Supporting our staff has been at the forefront of RDS’s ethos since the beginning. We believe that by investing in the people that work at RDS, we will attract and retain high quality talent from across Scotland and the UK, keeping the organisation at the forefront of the data landscape.
We provide flexible, hybrid working hours from day one; invest in training and development; and hold social events. It is still early days, but our work culture is always evolving and improving, based on staff input and feedback.
Basing RDS in the Bayes Centre
The Bayes Centre is the University of Edinburgh's hub for artifical intelligence and data science. The Bayes Centre’s impressive space is open in design, providing interactive places for occupants from across academia, industry and the public sector to foster relationships. Due to this deliberate design, the Centre creates a collaborative community which works in synergy to unlock pioneering advances in data science and artificial intelligence.
RDS has chosen the Bayes Centre as its base because it provides them with opportunities to collaborate closely with their partners and develop their work by collaborating with researchers and analysts.
Roger Halliday, Chief Executive of Research Data Scotland and Co-Director of ADR Scotland explains what inspired RDS to locate their organisation in the Bayes Centre:
Basing RDS in the Bayes Centre means we can work closely with researchers and analysts, providing opportunities to develop RDS’s work in ways that accurately reflect the needs of data-users. It also creates opportunities to work more closely with our partner organisations who are based in the Bayes Centre, including EPCC and the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR)
More information about RDS and the work they are doing can be found on their website.