Welcome to the blog from the Director of the UK Data Service, Matthew Woollard


Matthew Woollard, Director of the UK Data Service discusses the impact and benefit of the UK Data Service, focusing on its support for the development of international data services and also its influence in key areas of data access policy development.

Welcome to the new UK Data Service Impact Blog. By way of introduction I want explain that the main purpose of this blog is to demonstrate the impact and benefit of the Service.  It will include posts on both the use and the consequences of use of data of which we are the custodians, the impact of the Service itself in widening access to data and will act as a forum where we can share our experience and promote best practice in data service infrastructure.

As an opening post I wish to focus on two very recent activities that demonstrate the influence of the Service in different contexts. The first was a two-day workshop which was held at the UK Data Archive (part of the UK Data Service) at the University of Essex at the beginning of January on behalf of our funders, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and their Indian equivalent, the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICCSR). The ICSSR have a desire to set up an organisation which has similar aims and objectives to the UK Data Service, but serving the research community in India. The Service and the ICSSR had some preliminary conversations in 2013 and their planning has now moved forward considerably, so it was about time that we discussed our operations in finer detail so that the best of these could be transferred and legacy problems could be pre-empted. Two days of detailed discussion, with introductions from both research councils proved highly productive and our colleagues are re-examining their implementation plan. This type of impact is often hidden, especially as the consequences occur so long after the event.

The second area where we’ve had influence recently is in the development of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) consultation document regarding the Approved Researcher status. In a nutshell, the ONS is reviewing the detailed criteria necessary for researchers to access potentially disclosive data, including some of the data which we make available through the UK Data Service Secure Lab. I have been invited onto the Review Group which will ultimately prepare recommendations to the National Statistician. My personal feeling is that it is possible for the ONS to enlarge access to these types of data while staying within the law and continuing to protect personal data. Now it may be that my point of view cannot be fully reflected within the recommendations, time shall tell,  but I have had the opportunity of providing input from the user perspective and this fore-knowledge has allowed both myself and the Service to consider the ramifications of any changes from the point of view of other data owners, like the ESRC, whose access conditions are very similar to those of the ONS. It would be highly desirable that researchers have easier hurdles to jump and it’d be even more desirable for the requirements for “fit and properness” to be transferable. So, if these things do come to pass in the future it will be, to some immeasurable level, a consequence of the Service’s involvement.

By the way, the public consultation for this review will open in a few weeks. We’ll be tweeting its publication, and I look forward to a broad range of views from data controllers, data users and those with an interest in privacy concerns.

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