Opening up access to public sector data for research purposes will be the key theme of a user forum event to be hosted next month.

Research Data Scotland will host the online event on February 15, aimed at researchers, students, academics, analysts, statisticians or data controllers.  

RDS was set up last year and manages access and linkage to Scottish data about people, places and businesses for research.

Organisations and individuals carrying out research which is deemed to be ‘in the public good’ will be allowed to apply for access to the data held by public sector bodies, an RDS spokesperson said. That includes private sector organisations which have the right accreditations and there is currently a pilot period to 31 March to establish the more specific basis on which private sector companies can access public sector data.

On its website, RDS currently has a data catalogue with 53 datasets listed, including Scottish Covid-19 vaccination data, child health systems programme data and Scottish birth record. The data is provided, currently, by Public Health Scotland, National Records of Scotland and the Scottish Government. The guidance is that researchers will only be able to use ‘de-identified data’ made available in ‘controlled, secured environments where limits and conditions will placed on usage by the relevant data controllers and approval processes’.

Professor Roger Halliday, RDS chief executive, said: “We believe RDS’s services will be essential in the post-Covid environment when we seek to enhance health, wellbeing and the economy, and to support data driven innovation. Transforming the Scottish Government’s use of data will drive efficiency and improve public services with research at the core of this innovation. 

“That is why it is so important that we place RDS users at the centre of all our thinking to understand what they are seeking from RDS to help them achieve their research goals and the User Forum provides them with an opportunity to voice their views and influence the journey we are all on.” 

The agenda for the event will cover RDS’s progress to date, simplifying the data access process for researchers, an innovative approach to information governance, how RDS is engaging with the public and offer attendees an opportunity to share their views and input on how the RDS service evolves to meet their future needs. 

Professor Halliday said: “If you are interested in accessing public sector data, RDS want to hear from you so please join the User Forum on Tuesday, February 15. This is your chance to play a part in making improvements to the user journey, identifying priorities and sharing your ideas for streamlining information governance processes.” 

Scotland has a wealth of datasets that have the potential to save money, time and improve lives. Research Data Scotland will provide a new service for accessing public sector data in Scotland, offering safe, secure and cost-effective access to data for research, innovation and investment by unlocking the value of our data assets. According to the registration page, the free online event will also cover the ‘new datasets which are becoming available through the RDS data catalogue’, which according to the RDS spokesperson will be Scottish medical imaging data.

Register for the event here.