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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) to enable approved researchers all across the UK to securely access data to better understand our society and economy.

Coleraine has now become one of the first places in the UK to have received a SafePod, located at the School of Psychology, Ulster University.

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 Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) projects, such as the groundbreaking 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 and SAIL Databank.

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, removing the travel, cost and time barriers for researchers to attend the handful of existing dedicated safe settings in the UK. Researchers can book a SafePod through the new SafePod Network website, and 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.

Other organisations that have received a SafePod include the Universities of Bath, London School of Economics and Political Science, Oxford, York and The National Archives. A total of 25 SafePods are planned with all installations expected to be completed by 2022.

The SafePod Network is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and run by the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research as part of the ADR UK programme.