NEWS - Launching the SafePod Network

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 - for data that requires secure access for research. Within Scotland, Glasgow is the first city to have a SafePod installed at Glasgow Caledonian University.

The SafePod Network

SafePods were created by our director Professor Chris Dibben, developed by Chris and Darren Lightfoot, and are run by the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) as part of the ADR UK programme, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Approved researchers will now be able to book their local SafePod and access their project datasets, removing geographical, time and cost barriers which previously existed and enabling vital public benefit research.

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 ground breaking 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 Secure Lab and SAIL Databank. Other data centres are expected to join the SafePod Network over time.

Other organisations that have received a SafePod include the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Central Lancashire, Exeter, Liverpool, Manchester, Ulster, York and The National Archives. A total of 25 SafePods are planned by the end of 2022, including two more in Scotland in the next six months at the Universities of Dundee and the Highlands and Islands. 

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.

What is a SafePod?

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 and researchers can book a SafePod through the new SafePod Network website. 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.

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 can 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.”

Enquiries

For further information, visit the SafePod network website: www.safepodnetwork.ac.uk. Universities and other organisations interested in hosting a SafePod, and researchers interested in accessing them, should contact Darren Lightfoot, SafePod Network Manager, by email.

Full UK press release available here.

This article was published on 18 Aug 2021

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