Spotlight on Katherine Falconer

We hear from Katherine Falconer about life working as both Head of the Data for Research Unit, Scottish Government and Executive programme manager, ADR Scotland.

Katherine joined the ADR Scotland team in January 2022. Previously she worked for 5 years at Registers of Scotland (RoS), building up the statistics and analytical function then latterly working on a range of strategic improvement projects on corporate planning and performance management. Before RoS, Katherine worked in the Scottish Government in a range of roles spanning policy and analytical work, having joined in 2001 as an economics adviser.

We asked Katherine the following questions to get an insight into her career, her role and her areas of focus over the next year.

Why did you decide on a career in data?

I definitely hadn’t planned out a clear career path at the outset and for me it was more about growing into the area over time, given an analytical outlook and a growing interest in the power of data to improve decision-making for policy-making. Following a PhD in environmental economics at the University of Cambridge, I worked at the University of Newcastle for a few years before deciding that an academic career wasn’t for me. I moved to Scottish Natural Heritage as an economist advising on a range of things around land use policy, before joining Scottish Government as an economic adviser in Environment & Rural Affairs. Subsequently I took up opportunities to move into policy roles in portfolios including education and transport, which allowed me to really understand customer perspectives on developing and using analysis and evidence.

Please tell us more about your job

I’m responsible for delivery on the Scottish Government grant agreement with ADR UK / ESRC, so have oversight of work across the teams in the Data for Research Unit around data discovery, acquisition and researcher engagement, as well as central functions around programme management, communications and information governance. My role includes supporting Ally McAlpine as the new SG interim Chief Statistician and ADR Scotland co-director to develop strategic thinking around the programme. Essential to this is work with SCADR and the other core organisations supporting delivery within ADR Scotland, to ensure clarity, coherency and really productive partnership working for this investment phase.

Over the next year, I’m going to focus on:

  • Ensuring effective programme delivery planning and monitoring our progress and opportunities to add as much value as possible
  • Building up our capacity and capability after a period of churn and vacancies
  • Working with SCADR and delivery partners, as well as the analytical leadership community within Scottish Government, to develop real momentum around building up linkable data assets for innovative research use
  • Developing the strategic direction especially with Research Data Scotland now up and running with its transformational aims for the data access and usage landscape.

What is a typical day and what are some of the challenges you face?

Unsurprisingly there is no such thing as a typical day! Talking and collaborating with people is a central part however of every day. There are plenty of regular meetings with unit colleagues as well as with wider colleagues across the partnership and elsewhere in Scottish Government, for programme and people management and development. The role involves lots of planning and making connections which I thoroughly enjoy.

In terms of challenges, I’m very much on the learning curve still and have been taking opportunities wherever I can to find out more. Particularly, I’m working to develop better understanding of the complex landscape in which we all work, contribute to problem-solving (particularly resourcing, as a perennial issue) and spotting opportunities to add value. Horizon-scanning is really important. At this still early stage, building relationships for productive collaborative working is key, given the number of new people jooining and how the wider data access system is evolving now.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s great to have an opportunity to contribute to the really important agenda around unlocking administrative data for it to be used better to improve people’s everyday lives. There’s huge potential for good data linkage research to create new insights for public-sector decision-making, and lots of inspiring ideas for us collectively to act on. I’m particularly excited by the possibilities around geospatial data. I really enjoy the strategic aspects of my role, and also developing a really good team of people to deliver on the vision here. I re-joined Scottish Government whilst everyone was home-based still, and now that we’re getting back to more normal working, it’s great to see people face-to-face in Victoria Quay, the Bayes Centre and elsewhere.

Tell us some facts we didn’t know about you

I grew up in the south of England, in a small-ish town in Hertfordshire. I then moved steadily northwards, and have been living in Edinburgh since 2000.

When I’m not working, I love being outdoors- hillwalking, cycling, outdoor swimming, skiing, gardening etc. I also dabble in orienteering, although I am probably better on the organisational / coaching side of things rather than being let loose in the forest. I really do like maps though! During lockdown, with a bit more time on my hands, I enjoyed getting to grips with some mapping-related software tools and using these to develop orienteering courses for local club runners – particularly using an app that had GPS functionality to allow tracking and a bit of competition between users in the absence of actual events and races. If I’m indoors, I like cooking, reading and films.

This article was published on 30 May 2022

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