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Rushil Ranchod with his five top tips from Smart Data Research UK's strategy consultation

Five top tips from our strategy consultation

In the first of two blogs, Rushil Ranchod reflects on the stakeholder engagement work that fed into our strategy. 

SDR UK’s strategy has recently been published and draws on insights from a range of initiatives that we ran throughout 2023.  

The activities included workshops and discussions led by the SDR UK strategic advice team; a commissioned review delivered by the Open Innovation Team; and a host of bilateral engagements by our team with stakeholders in industry, government, and the research and innovation sector in the UK and internationally.   

We’d like to thank everyone who took part in these activities, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with you. 

In this blog post, I want to highlight five recurring themes and issues that were raised in our strategy consultation. I’ll also talk about some of the steps we’re taking to address these.  

1. We got our objectives and thematic pillars right  

There was consensus that the programme objectives – Access, Trust, Capability, Impact – were appropriate, clear, and well-framed. This provides confidence in our long-term goals and intended outcomes for the programme.  

Our four thematic pillars – Productivity and Prosperity for All, Health and Wellbeing, Digital Society, and Sustainability – are relevant to address key social, economic and environmental challenges. The pillars are clearly aligned with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) strategic investment areas and reflect government priorities.  

The scope of these pillars is wide-ranging and flexible: we recognise that there will be research questions and datasets which will cut across two or more pillars concurrently. As a programme, we are committed to interdisciplinary research and collaborations and will look to support the development of diverse research questions, methods, and tools using smart data.  

2. Things are changing. Fast. 

We recognise the rapidly evolving nature of the technology and data relevant to smart data research. This will have an impact on the types of smart data that may be produced in future. Our data services will invest in technical, analytical and methodological capabilities to respond to these changes while ensuring that we provide the research community with sustained access to secure and safeguarded datasets.   

We will closely monitor and respond to any wider policy shifts which might emerge through technological change and will comply with relevant regulations and laws which inform the generation, use and curation of smart data. 

3 We must build a user-friendly ecosystem 

SDR UK is committed to working collaboratively with other UKRI data investments such as Administrative Data Research UK and Health Data Research UK, as well as with organisations beyond UKRI.  

Such collaboration is important to build a cohesive and connected ecosystem of data infrastructures and will be central to our efforts to contribute to the development of the mechanisms, protocols and governance measures necessary to support potential data linkage, interoperability, standards development, and licensing which will underpin this ecosystem.  

4. Data access and sharing: a big challenge 

Our approach, experience, and networks will allow us to successfully manage the potential challenges of data access and sharing.   

We’ll continue to build partnerships with data owners to demonstrate the operational and commercial value that partnering with SDR UK will bring to their organisations, and to the public good.  

Existing SDR UK and ESRC data infrastructures have much to teach us.  We’re drawing on their experience all the time and will continue to do so to enhance good practice approaches for data access and sharing.  

It’s a key goal of ours to ensure that our data services embed strong information governance and data management practices in their activities; that they are secure and trustworthy, and that appropriate standards are in place to meet the technical, methodological, and ethical protocols for effective data governance.  

Doing this will provide a high degree of confidence and assurance to data holders and the public to enable access and sharing.   

5. Navigating the novel legal and ethical challenges of smart data 

During our consultation, issues were raised regarding privacy, access, data sharing, confidentiality, and risk. Effective management of these issues has been central to our conceptualisation of the programme.  

SDR UK is investing in a legal and ethics resource located in our hub in ESRC. This resource will play a critical role in providing our data services with knowledge and information on legal and ethical good practice for smart data.  

We’ll embed strong information governance and data management practices into our infrastructure investments and ensure that there is strict compliance with the relevant laws, regulations, and operational best practices.  

Finally, we want to be at the forefront of national and international developments on legal and ethical issues regarding smart data.  As part of this, we will keep engaging stakeholders and leverage expert insights through our consultative forums and activities. 

Rushil Ranchod is Senior Manager, Strategy and Partnerships for Smart Data Research UK – read the second part of his blog here.

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