UK-wide network of SafePods levels up access to data for research in the public interest
23 August 2021
The SafePod Network is set to become the first service in the world to provide a countrywide network of standardised safe settings (known as SafePods) to enable approved researchers across the UK to securely access data to better understand our society and economy.
A wealth of government datasets, as well as study and survey datasets, will be available for secure access from SafePods. This will include new linked datasets created by ADR UK projects, such as the groundbreaking Data First programme at the Ministry of Justice, and the majority of datasets held by the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, the UK Data Service and SAIL Databank.
A SafePod is a small prefabricated room, which provides the necessary security and controls to enable a researcher to access and work on data that requires secure access. In most cases no data needs to be held inside a SafePod, and instead access is provided by secure remote connection to the dataset-holding organisation’s server. Policies and procedures are also in place for SafePod management and use.
SafePods will be primarily based at universities, removing the travel, cost and time barriers for researchers to attend the handful of existing dedicated safe settings in the UK. Researchers can book a SafePod through the new SafePod Network website, and where necessary, priority access will be given for research that is critical to society and the economy.
The security of data used for research is vital, as many of the datasets in question are based on the administrative records of millions of people across the UK. Strict controls are already in place for their research use, and the datasets are either de-identified or anonymised before they can be used. SafePods maintain the physical security needed for research use of these datasets and enable researchers to provide valuable insights about how our society and economy function, without compromising anyone’s privacy.
SafePods have already been installed at the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Central Lancashire, Exeter, Glasgow Caledonian, Liverpool, London School of Economics and Political Science, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Ulster, York and at The National Archives. A further 12 are planned with all installations expected to be completed by 2022.
Universities and other organisations interested in hosting a SafePod and researchers interested in accessing them, should get in touch with the SafePod Network on 01334 463901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information is available at www.safepodnetwork.ac.uk.
Dr Emma Gordon, Director of ADR UK, said: “Making the SafePod Network an integrated part of the ADR UK programme is critical to its long-term success as it will give expert researchers equitable access to the UK’s wealth of public sector data and equal opportunity to create insights which inform public policies. I am delighted by the progress that has been made in installing the SafePods so far, and can’t wait to see what important new knowledge researchers across the UK are able to unveil as a result.”
Professor Chris Dibben, SafePod Network Director, said: “Until recently, researchers based in many parts of the UK could not access administrative datasets securely and easily. This probably meant important research for public benefit did not happen. Now, with the SafePods being installed across the UK, no researcher should be far from an access point – transforming the UK research landscape.”
Debra Hiom, Assistant Director of Library Services at the University of Bristol, said: “We are delighted to be hosting one of the first SafePods at the University of Bristol. Having access to virtual services is even more important in the current circumstances and we have a number of researchers who are eager to make use of the new facility.”
Professor David Ford, ADR Wales Co Director and Co-founder of the SAIL Databank, said: “The SAIL Databank is pleased to be recognised as a SafePod Network member. The SafePod principle of safe data access without geographical restraints is the foundation upon which the SAIL Databank is based. For over a decade SAIL has championed the use of cutting-edge remote technology to securely allow approved, accredited researchers access to anonymised data for research. We look forward to working with fellow SafePod locations across the UK as we support accredited researchers working on research for the public good.”
Professor Matthew Woollard, Director, UK Data Service, said: “Controlled data we provide access to via Secure Lab will now be more accessible to accredited researchers across the UK. What better way to celebrate the UK Data Service Secure Lab's 10th anniversary year than to extend its reach across the UK to enable more research that could benefit society.”
Pete Stokes, Director of the Integrated Data Programme at ONS said: “The SafePod Network will provide a secure, convenient, way for analysts to access a wide range of data, stored in the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service and elsewhere, which can only increase the range and volume of valuable research undertaken, providing better evidence for decision-making and delivering significant public benefits.”