Introducing the Safe Data Access Professionals Working Group

James Scott and Christine Woods, both Senior User Support and Training Officers (Secure Access Training) at the UK Data Service, introduce us to the Safe Data Access Professionals (SDAP) Working Group and the work they are doing to professionalise the roles of those working in Safe Settings.


What is the SDAP Working Group and what does it do?

The Working Group for Safe Data Access Professionals (SDAP) was established in 2011 as a forum where those working in Safe Settings can share their experiences and learn from each other.

At the time of writing, the group boasts members from UK Data Service, Office for National Statistics, The Health Foundation, Cancer Research UK, HMRC Data Lab, Connected Health Cities, Scottish Government, University of Manchester and University of Edinburgh.

These members occupy a variety of roles, and have wide-ranging experience of working in Safe Settings.  This breadth of experience – in providing secure access to confidential business, health and socio-economic data, in the government, academic and charity sectors – means that the group is seen as a vital hub of knowledge and expertise to draw upon and can act as a source of practical inspiration when reviewing and refining processes.

Over the past year or so the SDAP group has sought to not only to make useful resources available to anyone working in, or considering working in, this relatively niche field, but also to professionalise it.  That may seem like an odd thing to say, but the group is keenly aware that while staff gain substantial experience and expertise when working in these services, there is rarely much in the way of a formal career path or professional development. This can have negative consequences for staff, services and users (including high turnover and lack of skills, to the frustration of analysts).

To help enable staff to focus on their professional development by learning new, and developing existing skills, the SDAP group has produced a Competency Framework for staff working in Safe Settings.


The new SDAP website

In June 2018, the SDAP website came into being.  The website will serve as an online hub for information on SDAP events, guides and resources etc. The group’s first publication – The Safe Data Access Professionals (SDAP) Competency Framework – can already be found on the Guides and Resources page and there is a contact form for those that want to get in touch.  The website can be found here:


The Safe Data Access Professionals (SDAP) Competency Framework

The SDAP Competency Framework has been produced to help staff develop their professional skills. The Framework sets out the competencies for staff working in Safe Settings, and how this applies at different stages of their career – beginners (new staff), mid-level (1-2 years’ experience) and advanced (2 years’ plus).

The Framework is designed to help staff learn new skills and develop existing ones, and can be used for staff development – as a tool for setting objectives, identifying strengths and areas for development, assessing achievements and preparing for promotion. It can also be used for recruitment – for writing jobs descriptions and assessing applicants’ performance.

The group recognises that the services offered by Safe Settings and the roles of service staff differ considerably and so the Framework reflects this, covering the wide range of work undertaken by staff in Safe Settings (from data acquisition to data management and through to carrying out statistical Disclosure). The competencies that are relevant to staff will depend on their role so staff using the Framework can select the elements that apply to them.

Providing a framework for professional development will benefit staff, as well as adding value to the services they work for and the analysts accessing data in Safe Settings. The Competency Framework is downloadable from the SDAP website here.


Coming soon

The group is currently working on a Statistical Disclosure Control (SDC) Handbook which will provide analysts and staff responsible for statistical disclosure control checks with guidance about how to assess statistical results produced from confidential sources of data, before releasing from their secure data environments.  Intended to act as a handy reference, the Handbook will provide guidance about managing the statistical disclosure control process; and will contain specific guidance about assessing a variety of statistics for statistical disclosure.

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