Research Data Scotland: outline business case

The Research Data Scotland (RDS) Outline Business Case (OBC) sets out proposals for the establishment of a new national service that has the potential to save time, money and lives.

Executive Summary


This Outline Business Case (OBC) sets out proposals for the set-up and operation of a new national service delivery entity, which will support improved access to linkage-ready public sector datasets for research in the public interest.

This OBC follows standard HMT Guidance, and is aligned to both the Green Book and the “5 Cases” model it includes an option appraisal. The information presented in the OBC will be further developed as part of the Full Business Case (FBC).

A glossary is included at Appendix A.

Strategic Case

The offering from Scotland around data needs to be much stronger; speed of delivery, ease of access and linking of diverse datasets are impacting on the strength of our offering. There are also challenges with how long it takes to access Scottish data and about the quality and costs of the services required to enable that. More specifically, for academia, this means we are not securing a suitable share of the available UK research funding, and for public bodies, this means that they do not have the data to support public service reform.

Data are also dispersed both between and within public sector organisations. Multiple data controllers mean multiple data access processes. This also leads to blockages in data being available for research and innovation. In essence, we are currently facing a variety of concurrent challenges, including multiple data controllers; multiple data access processes; and data not always linkage-ready.

To address these particular challenges and realise our ambition for Scotland’s data vision we need to make progress in a number of areas. A key improvement is providing a single-entry point for researchers regardless of data controller and offering a seamless access pathway by bringing together and coordinating the various moving parts of the researcher access journey, including the commissioning arrangements.

Research Data Scotland (RDS) will provide a service for accessing public sector datasets that have the potential to save time, money and lives. It will offer safe, secure and cost-effective access to data for research, innovation and investment by enabling its users to deliver insight and understanding that will help create a more successful country through increased wellbeing, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and improving the health of the nation. We will work collaboratively with data controllers and users to develop the service while building trust and support from the public.

Scotland has a rich history of public sector data informatics, which has served to enrich and inform our most valued public services. Collaboration in Scotland between academia and the public sector has supported a national model of cross-sectoral research which has delivered path finding innovation and won numerous civil service awards, delivering key insights and furthering our understanding of some of the most pressing public policy issues.

While this collaboration has proven hugely successful, embedding learning and cultivating long-term relationships across organisational and sector boundaries, it has grown out of the efforts of a small number of dedicated individuals and teams across Scotland to make it work. It has also relied on informal collaborative arrangements around services and infrastructure.

This small scale has delivered efficient research flexibly; however, more recent innovations in the way public value is added through data mean the system needs to grow and flex if it is to stay relevant and meet the needs of a growing community of users. Changes to the types of data being collected and brought together for analysis, combined with advancing analytical techniques and computing power are placing tensions on a system, which was not designed to service this activity at scale and at pace.

The present work is therefore needed to place the current national arrangements supporting cross-sectoral research on a more formal footing, within an entity to be known as RDS, and to ensure the service model within this possesses the necessary resources, skills and infrastructure to meet changes to demand, technology and legislation.

The Strategic Case looks at the model proposed under RDS, which will enable services to invest in future-proofing, expanding the range of data that is available for use in research, whilst creating ongoing efficiencies.

The programme will:

  • Seek the full support of the Scottish public, acting in an open and transparent way.
  • Strive to deliver value for money.
  • Improve the service quality to users, by improving reliability and efficiencies by responding to the needs of different types of user.
  • Maintain/build strong relationships with data controllers, acting under clear information governance processes.
  • Comply with all legal requirements and protect the privacy of citizens and businesses. This will build upon the “5 safes” principles (safe projects, people, settings, data and outputs).

These expectations will be delivered via a programme of activities covering:

  • Service
  • Public trust and transparency
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Commercial and procurement
  • Safety and security
  • Financial
  • Accountability
  • Legislation

The services that RDS will oversee, are detailed in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Elements of RDS

The table shows the roles and responsibilities of elements of RDS. Multiple data controllers will be given access to the data access service. As part of the data access service data sharing and processing agreements are created between RDS and the data controllers. This process feeds into the RDS central administration system which is accountable for the overall administration. This includes; legal compliance, information governance, public acceptability, data security and service performance. From RDS central administration, HPC (secure storage and analytics platforms), indexing services and customer support are commissioned and performance monitored.

Socio-Economic Case

This section focuses on setting out the option appraisal, demonstrating public value through specifying a set of success criteria against which each of the options for delivering RDS are assessed. A set of Critical Success Factors will form part of this process of assessment.

Five delivery options are identified and set out below. The analysis assesses four strategic options for the service delivery vehicle, alongside the status quo option of maintaining the current informal contracting arrangements. These were formulated following consultation with internal Scottish Government colleagues, including legal teams and external delivery leads.

In addition to following the standard Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) guidance on Business Cases and being aligned to both the Green Book and the “5 Cases” model, the OBC is consistent with the wider approach taken by the Scottish Government (SG) in considering the wider Socio-Economic impacts of spend and policy decisions.

The difference between the various options relates to the structure of the overseeing organisation that will deliver the function of the delivery vehicle and where these functions operate within the existing Scottish public service landscape.

The four options are:

a) Amending the functions of an existing body

b) Amending the functions of the emerging Public Health Scotland as an arm’s length body

c) Establishing a new public body, such as a new standalone body

d) Establish a joint venture (e.g. under Section 84B, NHS Act 1978[1])

These options are compared against the base case “Do Nothing” option which consists of maintaining the current arrangements or business as usual (BAU).

The preferred option highlighted under the Socio-Economic Case is to establish a joint venture (e.g. under Section 84B, NHS Act 1978).

Commercial Case

The procurement path and commercial risk for the establishment of RDS is covered in the Commercial Case. This section considers the interactions between the legal and governance set-up of RDS and the risks associated with contracting and commissioning. Commercial risk will depend upon the preferred legal option for RDS and will also have a bearing on the governance set-up of the new organisation. These issues will be further explored in the FBC for the preferred option.

The Commercial Case sets out the implications for procurement and considers the requirements, proposed sourcing options, commercial arrangements and identified risks at this early stage. This section also summarises the preferred delivery option for RDS. The objective is to consider options for the participation in RDS of public sector bodies and other partners and service providers and to establish which vehicle/strategy should be pursued in order to achieve organisational objectives. As part of this, contractual and legal considerations are set out.

A Legal Working Group (LWG) was convened in 2019 comprising representation from service partner organisations, along with solicitors contracted by SG. The remit of the Finance Working Group is to provide information and advice to support the process of identifying options for legal models for establishing RDS as a legal entity, including the contractual and regulatory requirements. Further legal advice is being sought and the OBC will be shared with the group for input and consideration. This work will develop through the FBC.

A brief summary of existing procurement and governance arrangements is presented. Further detail on this will be sought from existing service partners as business planning develops to inform a collective picture of the current legal and contracting landscape.

The areas required for procurement are:

  • Office space
  • IT equipment, telephony services
  • Web domain and development
  • Staffing

Financial Case

The Financial Case sets out a detailed picture of the financial and funding position for RDS over the first five financial years of RDS’s operations. It captures a detailed contemporary account of current income and expenditure associated with the services that will form the service model under RDS.

Some backdated information on the Scottish Informatics Linkage Collaboration (SILC) funding and financing is presented where this was available. The main sources of income for RDS are identified and modelled, with assumptions and caveats set out. It is anticipated that RDS will take over the revenue-raising function of eDRIS and will combine this with grant income sources to capture an entire income profile out to 2025/26.

Where grant income sources are ring-fenced to particular activity, this is noted. Expenditure is driven by demand and by modelling of agreed requirements for RDS to achieve its longer-term objectives, including R&D function and investment. To ensure a sustainable and quality service, staffing levels are modelled on forecast volumes of work.

Existing financial and commissioning arrangements for RDS are described. These identify the current avenues through which funds feed into the existing service model and currently fund any element of costs of providing these services.

Financial sustainability is addressed, with some reference to how the model was set-up and maintained in the past. The existing project charges and more widely the revenue-generation function will be revisited as part of the FBC.

Some discussions have commenced with funders and these are highlighted in the ‘How could RDS be funded?’ section.

The financial model concludes that based on the assumed future service model, which includes development of the service, and a core grant of £5m from SG, there is a surplus position of approximately £0.3m per annum and RDS would be sustainable. This financial position does, however, remain sensitive to increased costs and the Financial Case will be updated in the FBC.

Management Case

The purpose of the management dimension of the Business Case is to demonstrate that robust arrangements are in place for the delivery, monitoring and evaluation of the scheme, including feedback into the organisation’s strategic planning cycle.

It is about seeking external assurance, scrutiny, monitoring and contract management. Much of this will cover practical issues around execution of the service and will need again to map out a transition journey for Day 1, Month 1, Year 1 and then further out. It will set out something about the RDS product and arrangements for the website and how they will be built up during the first year.

This covers contingency and risk management plans across service providers. The material will be developed further for the FBC.


This OBC concludes that it is possible to establish RDS to achieve the stated objective of realising greater value from Scotland’s data to inform our public services and support social and economic development, maintaining public confidence in the appropriate use of data, whilst making access quicker and delivering a more effective service for researchers who want to access data.

The establishment of RDS will build on Scotland’s existing investment and expertise to do the following:

  • Deliver a service to researchers enabling secure access to linked data about Scotland’s people, businesses and places for projects in the public good.
  • Transform the design, commissioning and funding of processes and services to promote more efficient access to data, whilst maintaining security and privacy.
  • Creating a “social contract” to ensure public awareness and support.
  • Enable access to a secure computing infrastructure.

However, we also recognise the challenge of doing this in a highly innovative, competitive and evolving data–driven environment. As a result, an overriding consideration for the establishment of RDS is how to ensure RDS provides a compelling, and competitive research data service representing a one-stop-shop solution in a diverse and multi-faceted data landscape.

This challenge requires further detailed scrutiny of the available operating models, including the most cost-effective way to utilise and maximise Scotland’s world leading capabilities and technology in the data-driven innovation space.



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