Research Data Scotland: Developing trustworthy information governance

Category: Governance, ADR Scotland

Written by Research Data Scotland 17 August 2021

Research Data Scotland (RDS)'s aim is to improve economic, social and environmental wellbeing in Scotland by enabling access to and linkage of data about people, places and businesses for research in the public good.

Our progress

Currently, RDS is moving from development stage to establishing itself as an organisation and beginning to deliver an initial baseline service (see the Outline Business Case). We will ensure that data access decisions are made effectively whilst being:

  • Transparent
  • Accountable
  • Lawful
  • Ethical

The first step in this development is to deliver a balanced, efficient and user friendly Information Governance approach. This must be trusted and respected by research users, data controllers, Government and ultimately the public at large. These values need to be at the heart of the development of RDS to enable the public centred innovation and research it aims to assist.

RDS will play a key role in unleashing the value of data and supporting data-driven innovation. It will focus on making data more easily accessible for research which brings public benefits for the people of Scotland. Our ambition for RDS is backing this up with real action. To ensure that data access processes are seen as enablers and not liabilities.

Information governance

Information governance is not a new concept. For RDS, information governance means an opportunity to facilitate access to data by ensuring data sharing is handled legally, safely and efficiently. All applications to use data are scrutinised by at least one independent panel which takes a view on the public benefit verses risk to privacy.

If information governance is not done well, crucial research may not happen or be significantly delayed. This can result from outdated processes which are unresponsive to new and emerging requirements. Currently, feedback from researchers shows that it could be faster and less burdensome, a sentiment also shared by many data controllers.

Next steps

By building on Scotland’s established and trusted data access and privacy preserving processes, we are confident that RDS can develop a more streamlined information governance approach for public sector data. We will achieve this by working closely with research users, partner organisations and data controllers. Engaging in an open dialogue to achieve a process that works for everyone will create an innovative and appropriate governance framework for RDS.

In the short term, we have identified three initial key steps that will form the groundwork of the RDS information governance framework:

  1. Review the improved guidance, standard instructions and process for researchers applying to access data.
  2. Set up an overarching suite of documentation templates so that data access processes are standardised for RDS users as much as possible.
  3. Coordinate data access requests from multiple data controllers.

In the medium to long term, we will look at a more streamlined pathway for accessing data. We will develop themed portfolios of research-ready datasets, aligned to key policy and research challenges. This more streamlined access pathway will apply to certain types of data held in a secure format in an environment where specific controls are in place. This approach is following the Five Safes Framework.

Our ambition is that over time the majority of research proposals can go through this route. This will provide a complementary method of accessing data with the potential to rapidly deliver linked data for more standard projects.

We are confident that we can develop a governance approach that streamlines and simplifies processes, without diluting proper governance. We will work closely with our key delivery partners including Public Health Scotland, National Records ScotlandEPCC (University of Edinburgh), the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research and the wider academic community to ensure the best possible processes are implemented. This will involve trialling processes, and documentation, taking on board the feedback from our trials and working collaboratively with our partners.

Meeting our key principle

In everything we do on information governance, we will ensure to uphold the RDS key principle of trustworthiness. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Reducing complexity wherever possible.
  • Increasing transparency around the data being held in certain secure environments, who is accessing data sets and for what purpose.
  • Building on the clear and published policies at each stage of data processing.
  • Proportionate use of data.

We will continue covering information governance at the Research Data Scotland new user forum on 17 August 2021, 13:00-15:00. Register for the event to share you views.

Find out more about Research Data Scotland.

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