BLOG - Developing and re-shaping our public panel

This week we hear from Harriet Baird, Engagement Lead for SCADR, on managing and developing a public panel discussing data and how to improve representation.

What actually is a public panel?

Some people may be wondering what a public panel is. There are various ways in which researchers engage the public through deliberative methods. You may have heard of citizen juries or citizen assemblies. In a way the public panel is like a longer-term form of this with a group of the public considering a range of topics – in our case, under the broad umbrella of data research and data access – over a few years.

The panel primarily enables researchers to share and shape their research, answer any questions that the panel may have and listen to their feedback. It helps to ensure that the use of public sector data in Scotland is for the public good and to improve how we communicate what we do with data. It is also a platform that allows data scientists and analysts from other data centres, such as Scotland's Safe Havens, to present and receive feedback on their processes and use of data more broadly.

Recruiting a more representative group

Prior to 2023, SCADR ran its own public panel. Since joining with Research Data Scotland this summer, we now co-deliver the ‘Scotland Talks Data’ panel. In order to have a panel whose members are from different Scottish communities, we used a company called Sortition Foundation to recruit a new cohort of panel members.

Panels like ours, and indeed public engagement in general, are understandably critiqued for who they reach. We are often asked, if we are engaging with a wide range of people? Are we reaching groups that have traditionally been heard less? It is always a challenge, but one that we always try to address and improve on. Therefore, for this round of recruitment, we really hoped that by working with Sortition our panel would be as representative and diverse as possible and alike to the Scottish population.

Fortunately, the recruitment method did just this, sending postal invites to people across Scotland and randomly selecting a representative amount from those who responded. Whilst it is a small group of 18-24 people and can never represent the views of Scotland, it does provide a balance of demographics across Scotland. We have been training our new members throughout September and October and we look forward to our first session with them in November!

The public panel is not the only way we communicate and engage with the public. It’s important to have different routes and activities to engage with all of our stakeholders, whether this is through larger public events such as our recent ‘Secret World of Data’ as part of Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Curious Festival or Research Data Scotland’s public engagement funding which is supporting a wide range of engagement with communities across Scotland.

The future of our panel

Running the public panel is one of the favourite parts of my role at SCADR, and I am confident that joining forces with Research Data Scotland will make it even better. I look forward to sharing our learning - both with our own organisations and with the other regional panels across the ADR UK partnership and beyond. This is really important so that panels like these can continue to improve and enhance who they involve and the experiences they offer.

Working with Katie from Research Data Scotland and other colleagues has been a great experience already, allowing us the opportunity to evaluate, bring in fresh insights and enhance the experience for the panel members. Having the one panel, 'Scotland Talks Data',supported by two organisations has enabled us to improve how we deliver and support the panel. It is now more sustainable as it benefits from different funding streams, and its remit is bigger - enabling our panel members to make more of a difference on the data landscape in Scotland.

Our inaugural 'Scotland Talks Data' panel session is planned for November and we look forward to sharing more updates soon.

If you wish to get in touch with the team organising the Scotland Talks Data public panel, please email

This article was published on 04 Oct 2023


Harriet Baird